We're now WorkTogether Talent Consulting. We remain dedicated to serving the education sector. Explore our new look and services!
Skip to content

Retain and Attract Amazing Employees with a Culture of Gratitude

One of the best ways to fill a job is by keeping valuable employees from leaving their positions in the first place. Recruiting is only half the battle; once you hire them, you need to work just as hard on an ongoing basis to retain your talented colleagues. Everyone has a fundamental need to feel valued and appreciated, even though the exact manifestation varies from person to person. Meeting this basic need has positive effects in all types of relationships. When you take the time to focus on showing your employees gratitude in your educational organization, you can foster a positive employer-employee relationship thereby creating a strong positive influence on your organization’s culture.

In a recent survey, researchers found approximately one-third of employee respondents felt employee recognition increases employee retention. Similarly, approximately two-thirds of respondents felt that employee recognition had a positive impact on their motivation and engagement. Satisfied employees brag on organizations with a supportive and engaging company culture. When you create a culture of care, recognition, and gratitude, the benefits don’t stop with proud employees who boast about their great employer (as awesome as that is!). They also include:


Acquiring new employees can be an expensive endeavor. Whether you advertise for an open position or post the position on an internet job board, once your hire someone, you also need to spend money to train them. When employee turnover is high, these costs increase; however, if you focus on staff retention, you can reduce these costs. You can better allocate your funds by spending these savings on your current employees.

Knowledgeable Teams

The longer employees stay in their position, the more knowledge they gain about their position and the organization for which they work. They learn the ins and outs of the organization, its culture, and its challenges, which creates a stable work environment. This deep organizational knowledge only comes from experience; a new hire cannot easily fill this gap. Knowledgeable teams make it easier for things to run smoothly.

Attracting Worthy Candidates

Internet job boards can produce a wide array of potential job candidates, some of which might not be a good fit for your organization or for the open position. When you have a culture of gratitude, it allows you to leverage your employees to attract passionate, hard-working, and qualified candidates. Your employees will gladly offer personal referrals for positions when they feel grateful and satisfied in their positions. When you foster a culture of gratitude, your organization will have a stronger reputation, making it easier to hire great candidates.

Why Is Gratitude Important to Your Employees?

Now you know how a culture of gratitude can benefit your organization, but why does gratitude matter? Shouldn’t mission-fit, meaningful work, and a paycheck be enough to motivate your employees? Science has taken many different approaches to study the workplace, including culture, job satisfaction, employee turnover, and more. When the idea of company culture, especially as it pertains to gratitude and the ways employers can show gratitude, emerges in research about the workplace, the ultimate message is consistent—gratitude is a basic human need. Considering employees spend at least half of their waking hours at their job, showing gratitude and receiving thanks at the workplace becomes a necessary element of a healthy work environment.

Research has shown that a culture of gratitude leads to other positive emotions floating around the workplace. One study refers to gratitude as a “gateway drug,” leading to more empathy, kindness, and generosity, because grateful people recognize their privileges. Studies also show that a culture of gratitude has benefits for your employees, which include:

  • Increased job satisfaction. Researchers have found that organizations who wish to increase job satisfaction among their employees can do so by creating a culture of gratitude, which also reduces employee turnover. In the previously discussed survey about employee recognition, 64 percent of employee respondents felt employee recognition increased job satisfaction.
  • Increased physical health. 2013 study revealed grateful people have fewer maladies and report feeling better than others. Additionally, grateful people are more likely to exercise, visit the doctor, and take better overall care of themselves. This also translates into additional benefits for you, such as fewer sick days and a lower chance of job-related injuries.
  • Increased mental health. Leading gratitude researcher, Dr. Robert Emmons, has led dozens of studies on the link between gratitude and mental health, all which confirm that gratitude increases happiness and lowers depression.
  • Increased productivity. Ultimately, the increased job satisfaction, physical health, and mental health caused by creating a culture of gratitude can collectively lead to increased productivity in the workplace.

Clearly, implementing a culture of gratitude, including deliberately speaking about it as such, provides benefits to all involved.

Creating an Attitude of Gratitude in the Workplace

The importance of non-verbal communication has remained a core element in business transactions and relationships, including those between supervisory roles and their employees. As you continue to read we offer you several actionable ways to show gratitude to your employees, but actions alone cannot create a culture of gratitude in your organization. Actions must accompany an attitude of gratitude which displays sincerity and authenticity. The most important tip for ensuring your actions are received in a productive and meaningful way is to be consistent. If you rarely show gratitude to your employees, it’s likely they won’t believe you are being genuine. Don’t save your deeds or scripted notes for once per year at a holiday party. Instead, make it a priority to show gratitude on a daily basis.

You might not have time to spend your entire day showing thanks, but if you pick one deed or person per day to reward with gratitude, others will notice and believe your sincerity. It’s important not to treat showing thanks in a formulaic manner. Customizing the way you show gratitude to your employees will go a long way in building respect and showing authenticity.

You should also remember that people have different ways of expressing gratitude. Whether verbal expressions, written messages, gifts, acts of service or something different altogether, all acts of appreciation in the workplace matter and help create a culture of gratitude. In school districts or other organizations in the education sector with extremely limited budgets, hosting events and meetings might not be economically feasible. Yet, you can still create a culture of gratitude in ways that are not cost prohibitive.

Additionally, some employees are extremely uncomfortable with public displays, whether on social media, receiving an award, or public shout-outs, so you might wish to privately show gratitude towards them. As you take the time to get to know your employees, you will have a better idea of which strategies work best for each person to receive your sincere expression of gratitude.

Showing Gratitude to Employees Through Action

Countless ways exist for you to show gratitude to your employees, so you can foster a culture of gratitude allowing you to attract and retain employees. Remember that a culture of gratitude starts with leadership and works its way through an organization. We focus on four broad areas: employee recognition, caring, valuing your employee’s time, and understanding.

Employee Recognition

Giving credit where credit is due can range from small creative gestures to more formal types of recognition, such as awards. When you recognize a person for a job well-done, you demonstrate that you as a leader, and the organization as a whole, value them and their important contributions to the team. A recent survey about trends in employee recognition revealed that the three most used programs across all industries include: length of service awards, recognition for above-and-beyond performance, and peer-to-peer (P2P) recognition programs. The same survey revealed that companies with the least amount of employee recognition programs suffer the highest employee turnover rates.

The survey also reports that most companies depend on formal recognition programs, which are often more public in nature. As previously mentioned, this might not be the best approach to show those who don’t want public recognition that you appreciate their dedication and work.

Below you will find examples of ways you can recognize your employees, helping your organization create a culture of gratitude and retain employees while drawing in new ones!

  • Send GIFs, emojis, and creative encouragement. Although you might think these things are unprofessional and better left for your tween or teen, light-hearted and funny recognition can spark all kinds of positive reactions from your employees.
  • Send videos with Hubcap or RecordScreen.io to call out a job well done. Depending on the employee, you might want to send the video privately or you can post it on your school’s website or social media page.
  • Host a “Thank You” meeting which only focuses on appreciation and gratitude.
  • Recognize employee wins on social media. A simple “Great Job!” on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram can boost employee morale.
  • Start a peer recognition program (P2P). Everyone wants to be recognized by their boss in some way, but getting “snaps” and “claps” from colleagues can sometimes be more important for some employees, and it offers benefits for you too. P2P is often organic and creates solid teams of employees and fosters high performance. Also, P2P is an inexpensive way to recognize employees when budgets are tight.
  • Host a Peer-Nominated Award Ceremony. You can take P2P to a formal place by having colleagues nominate each other for their greatest strengths and a job well-done.
  • Introduce a traveling trophy to your team. When an employee does something outstanding, the employee who has the trophy passes it to another. This P2P strategy can really help create employee engagement while colleagues watch for the perfect time to present another for professional excellence.
  • Amplify your employees’ celebration of each other. For examples, if employees plan a retirement celebration, buy the cake. Find out the plan, and see what you can reasonably do to take it to the next level.
  • Use Post-it Notes to leave anonymous appreciation notes in an employee’s workspace. This is an especially good recognition strategy for those who don’t like public shout-outs or wish not to recognized at a formal banquet or dinner.
  • Use a longer form traditional handwritten note of appreciation, thanks, or kudos, too. Once again, this is a great private strategy and you communicate sincerity by taking time out of your day to write a long-form note.
  • Celebrate big and small wins privately and in front of peers, especially when someone has gone above and beyond or handled a challenging situation in a excellent matter.
  • Use tools for frequent and spontaneous high-fives. While you might find this a little silly, remember when you can show recognition in fun ways, it also communicates authenticity and sincerity.
  • Make shout-outs part of your regular team culture to motivate and show appreciation for those who love public recognition.
  • Provide continual, spontaneous feedback that is positive and constructive. Sometimes you need to give negative feedback to an employee. You can still show gratitude and recognize them for the things they have done well and give them actionable, constructive advice on how to do better next time.

Sharing Is Caring

Your employees are no different than your close friends and family to the extent that when you take an interest in things that matter to them, it shows them that you care. This is especially important in large organizations, schools and school districts with a high-number of non-teaching employees who contribute to turning the cogs to make each day go smoothly. It’s easy for an employee to feel a sense of alienation or feel like a number instead of a living, breathing person with worries, feelings, hobbies, and desires, especially when their job is behind the scenes. You can hold some larger events, but doing everything at once for all employees is difficult. In many instances, focusing your efforts on a different staff member each month or quarter will allow you to connect with them in a more sincere and meaningful way. Some ways you can show you care include:

  • Learn something about each employee, such as professional aspirations, personal goals, needs, and likes.
  • Do something nice for an employee and encourage them to pay it forward to a colleague. You can even create a Pay It Forward Challenge to inspire sharing and caring among all of your employees. Consider something like “Secret Santa Meets Pay It Forward.”
  • Support your employees’ causes by sponsoring or attending functions such as galas, golf tournaments, shows, and more. You can also support causes by making a charitable donation.
  • Show your charitable spirit and care for the community and put together a team-service project or volunteer day with a local organization or non-profit to help those in need. This can including hosting a clothing drive for a battered women’s shelter, hosting a food drive for a local food pantry, helping build houses for Habitat for Humanity, and much more.
  • Send an employee to a conference, seminar, or educational activity that falls in line with their goals and interests.
  • Host an event for employees that includes families, friends, and pets.
  • Keep tabs on important dates like anniversaries and birthdays, as well as other family events like school sports games and dance recitals. If you cannot attend events, you can take the time to offer best wishes and good luck.
  • Invest in your employees’ education. This can include paying for certifications or classes towards obtaining a degree. When monetary investment is cost prohibitive because of your budget, you can support your employees by giving them the time they need to attend classes. This might mean adjusting a work schedule or an occasional day off.

Value Your Employees’ Time

The time-specific aspect of the school year and school day makes it difficult for education professionals to take time off when they need it, especially if it doesn’t coincide with scheduled days off on the school calendar. Those in non-teaching roles aren’t typically tied to a classroom, so you have more leeway to show appreciation for their time. For those who work in the education sector, but don’t have to conform to the school day, it makes it even easier. You might consider one of the following:

  • Randomly giving one or more members of your team the rest of the day off.
  • Offering impromptu time off.
  • Giving a staff member the opportunity to work from home for a day, if applicable.

Understanding Your Employees

When you go through your daily routine, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the personal and professional struggles, challenges, and responsibilities of your employees. Taking the time to understand your employees allows you to connect with them in a way that shows gratitude. Some ways you can foster understanding towards and among your employees include:

  • Host round-table meetings to provide a safe space to openly discuss professional development topics
  • Create “Get to Know You” activities or questions to learn about others
  • Learn about day-to-day details of your employees. You can let them be the teacher as you shadow your employees through their daily routine. Ask them to explain procedures, allowing you to truly understand them. Your employees want to be understood, but also want to know that as you lead them, you continue to proactively look for the best ways to help them succeed. During this kind of activity, you can ask your staff for:
    • Instructions. Ask your team members to walk you through each of their daily tasks, step-by-step, and let them teach you how to do their job.
    • Insight. Gain insight into their role by asking, “What challenges do you run into when you’re doing ______? Do they slow you down? Do they overcomplicate your job? What are some things that you love about this process?”
    • Suggestions. Ask “If you could do this differently, what would you do?” or “If you could change anything about this task or process to make it better for yourself or the rest of the team, how would you lay that out?”
    • Support. Learn how you can support your employees by asking “What resources do you need to make your workload a little easier to manage and/or complete? What type of support would be the most useful for you?”
  • You can also approach the above shadowing activity Undercover Boss-style—let your employees have a “Take Your Boss to Work” Day where you have to do their job.
  • Be open to hearing about the challenges your employees face and the things they aspire to see happen in your organization. You can encourage openness informally, but you can also make sure you have an “open-door” policy, so your employees feel they can come to you with anything.
  • Have coffee meetings that foster communication and understanding.
  • Host brainstorming meetings to solve issues or problems that one or more of your staff might be experiencing.
  • Participate in off-campus outings.
  • Provide “lunch and learns” so you can fill your staff’s bellies and minds at the same time. When you understand specific challenges and struggles, ongoing training can help alleviate some of them.

Putting it All Together

Creating a culture of gratitude in your educational organization helps you retain and attract quality employees who love their jobs, have better physical and mental health, and increased productivity. You get to benefit from this culture by saving costs associated with high employee turnover and having quality teams of experienced and knowledgeable people who understand how your educational organization works. Plus, organizations with a culture of gratitude are just far more fun places to work!

Changing culture in the workplace doesn’t happen overnight and it needs to come from the top, so those at the bottom can embrace the change. As you continue to make efforts to recognize your employees, show care and understanding, and demonstrate that you value their time, you will gradually see a shift in culture, allowing you and your employees to reap the benefits.

Back To Top