Four Ways to Leverage Appreciation at Year End

The holiday season and the close of another year tend to invoke a time of reflection and gratitude. We think back on all we have accomplished, consider what we are grateful for, and look forward to what lies ahead in the coming year.

In business, many companies have developed formalized systems of reflection and recognition, from retros, reviews and parties to holiday bonuses, gift cards and paid time off. These are all important practices, yet, we can go deeper and have even more impact with new approaches.

How can we express more potent appreciation for our employees at year end in a way that goes beyond a little extra compensation and engages forms of reflection and gratitude that may be even more meaningful? Throughout my career managing teams - and also training leaders to manage theirs - I’ve found these 4 tools to be particularly powerful:

1. Write a personal thank you note to each employee.

Go beyond job performance and let your reports know how they have impacted the team by nature of who they are and how they show up. Use these questions as a guide: How has this employee positively contributed to the culture of the team or organization? What are the unique gifts they bring? Maybe they bring humor and brighten people’s day. Perhaps they have been willing to jump in and support their colleagues, or come up with creative and innovative ideas. How has this employee made your life or job easier? What are the small things they do that make a big difference?

2. Write a letter to your team sharing what you are personally grateful for.

Impart the joy you feel for what you accomplished together and what each one of your team members brought to the table. Try these prompts: Because of you, we were able to __. Without you, we never would have been able to __. I so appreciate the __ of this team.

Don’t be shy - include your personal successes as well!

3. Use Appreciative Inquiry to guide your year-end team retrospective.

Leverage powerful and positive questions to celebrate and build on your team’s strengths and what it has done well. Guide your discussion by asking these questions: Why is what we’re doing important to us? What positive impact has our work had over the past year? When did we perform at our best this year? How do we build on this next year? What personal contributions to our team's successes are you proudest of this year? What is possible next year? What work are we excited to do together?

4. Cultivate group appreciation.

It’s wonderful for your employees to hear your gratitude, and it’s also powerful to have them hear it from one another. A simple way to do it is by convening an end-of-year meeting and passing around sheets of paper with each team member’s name on it. Everyone on the team gets to write at least one thing that they appreciate about each of their colleagues. At the end of the meeting, every employee gets to see their paper and share a few things their team has said about them.

Often, we don’t know just how much we are appreciated. Each of these approaches to gratitude are free and easy to integrate, and can have a profound effect on your employees.

When we practice deeper forms of gratitude, we leave team members feeling engaged, seen, and excited for the coming year. That, in turn, helps to build and maintain a culture based on motivation, connectedness, loyalty, and innovation, as well as a deeper connection to purpose.

I’d like to challenge you to take at least one of these practices on as a gift to your team, and to consider how you might make it more than a once-a-year affair. Appreciation can truly do wonders.

Jess Peabody is Programs Lead at The People Piece, where she brings the power of appreciation to leaders, managers and teams wanting to build stronger relationships and achieve greater results. Before that, she coordinated chapter relations for Conscious Capitalism, directed learning and development for Whole Foods Northern California, and led teams of 4 to 400 employees.