Workplace Thanksgiving an ‘Incredible Tool’

By Kathy Gurchiek November 21, 2012

Showing gratitude toward employees can go a long way in inspiring loyalty, productivity and retention, according to some who think thankfulness should extend beyond the fourth Thursday in November.

“Most people don’t recognize this incredible tool, or understand its power,” said Judith W. Umlas, in a video on the subject of gratefulness.

She is the author of Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgement to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results (McGraw Hill, 2012) and The Power of Acknowledgement (International Institute for Learning, 2006). She also is senior vice president of the International Institute for Learning (ILL), which hosted the first Grateful Leadership Tribute in New York City in November 2012; the winners are profiled in Umlas’ Grateful Leadership book.

“What all of us possess and most of us don’t use often enough is the power of acknowledgment,” she said. Showing appreciation and gratitude, Umlas added, “can produce profound and dramatic changes in our intimate circle and far beyond.”

While most employers can’t afford the largesse of Howard Cooper—the 83-year-old car dealership owner in Ann Arbor, Mich., who gave his 89 workers big bonus checks worth thousands of dollars apiece before he retired from his business in 2012—appreciation can be demonstrated in small, meaningful ways.

It can take a variety of forms, including formal recognition programs, early dismissal before a holiday, publicly acknowledging successes and workplace celebrations, according to a blog by the Ohio-based Employee Resource Council.

Todd Patkin concurs on the value of thankfulness in the workplace. After graduating from Tufts University, he worked for the family business—Autopart International—for nearly two decades until Advance Auto Parts purchased it in 2005. Today, he is the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011).

“In so many organizations, employees go through their days assuming that their co-workers, and especially their bosses, don’t notice or appreciate all of the hard work that they do,” Patkin said in a news release. “And if that’s the way you feel, you will just go through the motions.”

However, “tapping into the spirit of Thanksgiving can tip the balance between success and growth or stagnation and failure,” and serve as a great “motivator and catalyst for growth,” he observed.

He advised recognizing employees who do something well or encouraging behavior you want to foster, whether it’s thanking an employee who makes an extra effort for a client or a store manager who is honest about a mistake he or she made.

“Never forget,” he said, “that whatever you acknowledge positively will be repeated.”

He shared the following tips for creating a culture of gratitude:

  • Always give a heartfelt “thank you.” Not only does it show appreciation, but it makes the leader or supervisor more approachable.
  • Show your appreciation in different ways and to reinforce stellar performances, whether it’s giving tickets to a sporting event to high-achievers, highlighting an employee’s achievement in the company newsletter, throwing company parties or other forms of recognition.
  • Start being more open and demonstrate that you care about helping yourself or others to improve in the job. Leaders can offer constructive advice and team members can ask for feedback from co-workers and their supervisor.
  • Learn to graciously accept thanks. Brushing off a compliment, perhaps out of embarrassment or shyness, can discourage others from reaching out. Let others know that their words are meaningful to you.
  • Extend appreciation beyond those you work with to include customers and clients. Gratitude could include thank-you notes, coupons or promotions.

“Meaningful workplace gratitude is easiest to spark when it comes from leaders,” he said, “but eventually that attitude will start to also spread between employees; from there, it’ll even trickle down to customers. All of that is great for business.”

Kathy Gurchiek is Associate Editorfor HR News. She is grateful to those quoted in this article for their contribution to her story.

Related Resource:

SHRM Express Request, Fostering Gratitude at Work



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Are you a department of one?

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.