One afternoon in February, a card with a big "thank you" on the front appeared on the desk of every Gusto employee. Scrawled inside was a handwritten note from each person's manager, who we call People Empowerers, thanking them for their contributions during our company's busiest time of year. That day, each person's sense of pride for what they had accomplished was palpable. People were excited to express their gratitude and savor a moment where they felt truly connected to the rest of the team.

Employee Appreciation Day was started in 1995 to help companies make moments like these happen more often. Many organizations confine recognition to only one day out of the year, but really, that's 364 days too short. Appreciation is a muscle that should form a core part of your culture. And the special part about all of this is that the more you practice it, the stronger it gets.

Here are a few principles that will help you incorporate more gratitude into your everyday.

Find what's authentic

To make appreciation meaningful, it has to reflect the things you believe in. It has to feel true to where you are today and where you want to go. Zappos does a thoughtful job of linking values with recognition through their HERO awards program. Every month, the company encourages people to give $50 to the one teammate who best exemplifies Zappos' values. At the end of the month, the person who receives the most nominations is crowned the "hero," complete with their very own parade and cape. The adventurous Zappos culture is inside every aspect of the program-from the peer nominations all the way to the creative prize.

At Gusto, we think travel is an opportunity for introspection. It widens our perspectives, calibrates our thinking, and gives us the chance to detach from the day-to-day. That belief also forms one of our main values, which we like to hashtag as #ItsAMarathonNotASprint. This long-term mindset is a cornerstone of our culture and influences the way we run the business. For example, when our first employee was about to reach his one-year anniversary with the company, we were brainstorming what to do and decided to give him a free plane ticket to anywhere he wanted to go. Now it's our tradition to give employees who reach their one-year anniversary a "golden ticket" to anywhere in the world. It's a way for our team to see new things, while also reminding us of the values that drive us day in and day out.

Lay out the tools

Recognition programs need a canvas in order to thrive. One way Grasshopper does this is by providing their team with "I caught" cards, which motivates people to "catch" values-inspired moments. In our San Francisco office, we have something similar called a "kindness wall." It's a simple whiteboard where people can leave positive messages for their teammates on the fly. Every day, people take a few minutes to soak up all of the incredible things their coworkers are doing across the company. We also have a Slack channel, called #all-kudos, specifically devoted to celebrating the achievements of others. The channel is an upbeat stream of GIFs and emojis in honor of all the great work people have accomplished.

Each of these ideas are free, easy to set up, and remind us that it's everyone's job to appreciate the excellence around us. Having impromptu places to do that helps accelerate these types of positive behaviors.

Relationships are the root

Appreciation comes from real, human connections. Research from Cicero Group found that 50 percent of employees felt that getting recognized by their managers not only strengthened their relationships, but it also heightened the amount of trust between them. That concept is crucial. Both employees and employers should feel like they're in meaningful relationships with each other. It's a virtuous cycle: the more you appreciate, the closer you become.

So how do you build these relationships? By finding an alignment. When people do work they're good at and that an organization needs, it's just the average, transactional job. But when the person is also doing something they care deeply about, it turns work into an integral part of life. Creating a culture of appreciation starts when all three parts connect. People won't feel valued when they aren't tapping into their potential, which also prevents companies from seeing everything a person is capable of.

To build a culture that feels true to who you are, gratitude needs to be a constant. At the end of the day, your team and role may change, and so will many facets of your business. But the reason you love to appreciate others will always remain the same.

Published on: Mar 3, 2016
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