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5 ways to build a culture of appreciation on your team

Parts of this article originally appeared on

Gratitude and appreciation are hallmarks of good leadership and healthy work culture — people want to hear that their work is valued! But even leaders sometimes hesitate to thank people as often as they could, thinking that team members already know how appreciated they are or simply feeling like they don't have a good structured way of expressing recognition and gratitude. Here's the truth: you can never thank people too much or too often (and all that gratitude is good for the business, too.)

Appreciation by the Numbers

Reporting from an ongoing partnership between Gallup and Workhuman has consistently found that, when employees experience gratitude and recognition for their work, business outcomes follow, improving everything from productivity to employee retention to profitability. Here are a few measurable ways that a culture of appreciation drives outcomes. 

1. $92 Million in Employee Output

A joint report from Gallup and Workhuman published in early 2023 found that a typical 10,000 person company with a strong culture of gratitude stands to gain an increase in productivity that amounts to nearly $92 million. The gains are even more pronounced for companies in the tech and finance sectors. A similar sample company also stands to save $16.1 million in improved employee retention and reduced turnover.

2. 24% More Motivating than a Raise

A report from Deloitte on the power of appreciation in the workplace found that 47% of employees were most motivated by a growth opportunity — a form of recognition — compared to just 23% most motivated by a raise. The numbers are even higher among younger members of the workforce. 51% of Millennials prefer growth opportunities to salary increases or other forms of recognition.

3. 4x Improvement in Engagement

Research from Blueboard and Wakefield Research found that employees at companies with a strong culture of recognition are more than four times as likely to report that the employees at their company are fully engaged in their work. Conversely, employees who reported a weak culture of appreciation at work were also much more likely to report low engagement.

How to Practice Appreciation 

Roughly 2 out of 3 employees don’t feel adequately appreciated at work today; there’s a lot managers and leaders can do to move the needle.

1. Just Say 'Thank You'

84% of employees say that they would be satisfied with a simple “thank you” in recognition of their hard work, either expressed verbally or in writing. Many employees find appreciation from managers and leadership most impactful, but also feel motivated by appreciation from peers. When managers model gratitude as a daily practice, it’s more likely to be adopted broadly across organizational culture.

2. Practice Recognition and Appreciation

Recognition is generally more formal and might be bound up total rewards in the form of raises, bonuses, and promotions. It generally lies within the power of managers, senior leaders, and HR to bestow. While recognition is very important, appreciation is less hierarchical and, when practiced, more likely to become an organizational norm. Appreciation can take the form of shout-outs, simple thanks, or showcasing a particular project or outcome, among other practices.

3. Lead by Example

Shifts in leadership behavior have been shown to meaningfully change the values of the entire organization. When leaders and managers take time to express their appreciation, both publicly and in private, those who observe or receive that gratitude are more likely to go on to do the same for others.

4. Create Opportunities for Appreciation

A study by the University of Colorado found that coworkers are kinder to one another when asked to keep a personal gratitude journal. Leading structured appreciation exercises might have a similar impact, as can creating clear norms for expressing recognition — like a Slack channel dedicated to shouting out teammate’s contributions.

5. Build a Culture of Trust and Connection

An organizational culture with tight interpersonal bonds and a sense of mutual trust and safety is highly correlated with a strong experience of appreciation. It’s a virtuous cycle, wherein expressing appreciation nurtures trust and safety, and a stronger sense of trust prompts people to express their appreciation for one another more readily.