16 November 2023

Gratitude: a critical talent retention strategy

Why gratitude shouldn’t be overlooked and ideas that will make a difference today.

At TNM, we believe that gratitude holds great power to improve all areas of our life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves as a talent retention strategy. While career advancement, pay rises and professional development opportunities are vital, they aren’t always enough on a personal level to keep your best people in their roles – that’s where gratitude comes in.

When we talk about gratitude, we don’t mean the ubiquitous courtesy ‘thank you’ at the end of every email. We’re talking about a permanent aspect of culture that is driven by leadership throughout the organisation which facilitates meaningful ways to reflect on, and show appreciation for, people’s contributions.

Below, you’ll discover why it’s so important, and a number of practical ideas you can begin to implement today.

Why gratitude should be a business priority

It might feel like common sense, but research has proven that workers who feel appreciated and who show gratitude to others are happier and feel more connected to their work.  A Melbourne University study uncovered that that:

“There is convincing evidence to show gratitude interventions promote wellbeing in many different samples and settings. The results also suggest that employees gain benefit, in the form of greater job satisfaction, through belonging to a workplace culture that endorses gratitude (Emmons, 2003).”

Unsurprisingly, gratitude has a positive impact on how much effort employee’s put in, and how willing they are to stay in a role. Glassdoor’s Employee Appreciation Survey found over half (53%) of employees would stay longer in a job if they felt more appreciation from their manager while a study by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 68% of HR professionals believed that employee recognition had an impact on talent retention. Furthermore, 81% of employees also admitted that they are willing to work harder when their manager shows appreciation for their work, while only 38% who would work harder for a demanding boss.

How to use gratitude for talent retention and growth

All of the ideas below are quite simple to implement, however success rests on any acts of gratitude being heartfelt and genuine each and every time.

Incorporate gratitude into 1:1 meetings and performance reviews
For this to be effective, managers need to be specific, going into detail about what was done well and why, and telling the employee how their efforts made them feel – reassured, relaxed, confident. This is meaningful as it ties gratitude to something they’ve personally invested in and encourages them to strive for this in the future.

Managers can then use a gratitude lens to talk about challenging projects or situations, asking questions such as:

  • What did this challenge teach you about yourself and others?
  • What did you learn that will help you do things differently next time?
  • Has the challenge uncovered something you are grateful for within yourself or external to you?

Build a culture of gratitude
Cultural change around gratitude may take longer, but it has more sustainable, and far-reaching results. Gratitude at work (communal gratitude) encourages pro-social behaviour by improving feelings of self-efficacy and self-worth. Essentially, the ‘spillover effect’ of gratitude sees: “Individuals become more trusting with each other, and more likely to help each other out,” according to Forbes.

And the more appreciation that is shown, the more it is replicated, creating a self-sustaining behaviour that embeds itself in the organisation’s culture. Basically, gratitude is infectious, and according to the Melbourne University study, the effects of this this contagious nature can influence job satisfaction for every employee in the organisation.

In particular, gratitude that is expressed publicly is incredibly powerful. Start by encouraging people to show appreciation when giving project updates, even for the smallest things like covering while someone had to go off sick, mucking in when it gets busy, jumping in for a high priority project, or sourcing hard-to-find information.

Leaders can then encourage gratitude on a communal level by:

  • Setting a regular day each week for showing appreciation to others via an internal communication channel such as Teams, Engage (Yammer) or Slack.
  • A weekly thank you video from CEO or directors which calls out people’s achievements.
  • Adding a permanent agenda item for messages of gratitude/recognition at the start of all-hands or department-wide meetings.
  • Allocating time each month or quarter for people to hand-write thank you notes to someone who made a big difference to you them.
  • A surprise thank you lunch (paid for by the company) every so often – unexpected treats are valued by employees, break up busy or stressful periods and bring people together.

Equip leaders and managers with the right mind-set and tools
Leaders may be grateful at heart but may not know how to communicate their gratitude meaningfully. They may need coaching to establish their own gratitude mindset so they can do the same for others. Peer coaches or executive coaches (if engaged) can help through tailored coaching tools and exercises such as our gratitude journal prompts and reflections that encourage leaders to:

  1. Be thankful for the smallest things.
  2. Show gratitude for the first things that come to mind and then go deeper.
  3. Show gratitude for others by asking themselves “How can I go beyond ‘thank you’ to show appreciation in a way that is meaningful for that person.”
  4. Take care of themselves and getting enough sleep – it’s hard to be grateful when you’re hungry, tired and unwell.

If they’re lost for words? This HBR article has some conversation openers.

Show appreciation when things don’t go right
Whether because of internal issues or external factors beyond our control (flood, fire, pandemic, technology break down, economic pressures, supply chain issue etc.) sometimes work doesn’t turn out as we expected: a marketing campaign doesn’t hit the mark, the sales team don’t make their targets, a project faces complications and delays, or a new product or service isn’t a success.

Rather than admonishing employees who have put in a tremendous amount of hard work and creativity for a failure or poor outcome, leaders have an opportunity to make appreciation-based project debriefs a permanent part of their processes. It’s a time for them to sit down with employees to recognise their efforts, reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and the lessons and people they can be grateful for.

If you’ve ever been in a workplace where your leaders and coworkers didn’t appreciate your contribution, no matter how hard you worked, you’ll understand the drive to slow down your efforts at work, update your resume, and scan LinkedIn for a new role.

The gratitude initiatives outlined above are simple and cost-effective, but as the research shows, the benefits are long-lasting and prevent you from losing the talented people on whom your organisation’s success depends.

Interested in finding out more?

TNM Coaching develops leaders all levels in the organisation, resulting in well-rounded, prepared leaders capable of building happy, productive teams.

If you would like to explore how we can support talent retention in your organisation through training and coaching, we’d be delighted to share our insights and experience with you – simply book a discovery call for a no-obligation conversation with one of our team.

Written by Katrina Strathearn


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