5 Tips for Expressing Gratitude to Employees

Chris Stevenson Headshot
Owners121 Feat

Whenever I present on topics such as leadership or team building, I always incorporate a section on the importance of gratitude. While gratitude may seem like an intangible topic, it is quite the contrary. Research shows that gratitude is a leading factor in team-member engagement.

For instance, years of research led to the development of the Gallup Q12 survey, the leading survey determining employee engagement. The survey consists of 12 questions, of which more than two-thirds are directly or indirectly related to feeling appreciated. For team members to stay engaged and do the best work possible, leaders must be mindful and intentional when it comes to expressing gratitude.

Obviously, gratitude is not the only means to improve team-member engagement. Pay raises, bonuses and the ability to promote are powerful drivers, as well. There are scenarios, however, in which leaders do not have the ability to give promotions, raises or bonuses. Smaller facilities don't often provide many opportunities for promotion. Some facilities have a limited budget for financial incentives. Frankly speaking, the coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of facilities in a position where raises, spending on bonuses and promotion are not currently possible.

That is the great thing about the positive impact of gratitude. It does not cost anything other than intentionality. The ROI on expressions of gratitude in terms of positive impact on team member engagement is immense.

Through years of research and hands-on operating experience, I have compiled five tips for expressing gratitude effectively.

1. Express frequently
Gratitude should be voiced often and regularly. According to the Gallup Q12, every team member should hear positive feedback at least once every seven days. This doesn't mean faking it. If a team member does not perform at a level at which they can be praised once a week, you should probably reconsider having that person on your team.

The expression of gratitude is a practice that is often put on the back burner, so I highly recommend creating a simple spreadsheet to track expressions of appreciation for team members. This ensures more frequent expressions of gratitude. What we track gets done.

2. Be timely
Gratitude should be expressed in the moment. When a team member does something well, tell that person immediately. The further away you get from that moment, the less relevant the gesture becomes. The other benefit to praising in the moment is that other team members see it and become motivated to be recognized in the same manner.

Take something as simple as answering the phone properly. Imagine there are a few team members behind the front desk and the phone rings. The team member who answers it does a great job answering with the proper script, and with great energy and a huge smile. When you express gratitude to that team member, it also sets an example for everyone else on how it should be done. A rule of thumb is when you see it, say it!

3. Stay specific
Gratitude should be specific. This demonstrates you are paying attention and reinforces the specific behavior.

For example, you could say "good work" to a team member, but when you are specific, you might say, "Great work smiling and enthusiastically greeting our members this morning. Your greetings made people feel so welcome and very happy to be here!" Specificity reminds team members that details matter and make a difference.

4. Reinforce benefit
Team members, and people in general, are fulfilled when what they do has meaning and positively impacts others. Reminding a team member that the behavior demonstrated had a positive impact on you or others reminds that person of the deeper purpose and meaning of the action.

As an example, when praising a childcare attendant for nurturing a child well, remind him or her that the attention creates a great experience for that child, while also giving parents peace of mind that their child is in good hands while they exercise. Always ensure team members know how much their work positively impacts others.

5. Recognize effort
Let team members know you recognize their efforts. It is impactful to convey appreciation, as well as acknowledge effort.

You might say, "I know what you did wasn't easy and that it took a lot of work." As leaders, we may not always be in the trenches, making it easy for a team member to feel like his or her hard works goes unnoticed. Easily alleviate this by making sure to specifically reference their best efforts.

All five tips could come together to look something like this: You come across a welcome desk team member organizing the equipment storage closet in a group X studio. You approach that team member in the moment (frequent and timely) and say something like, "Hey team member, thank you so much for taking the time to reorganize and straighten up the storage closet (specific). What you are doing helps our instructors organize and set up their classes better, not to mention it is a much better experience for the members because it is neater and more convenient (benefit to others). I appreciate your willingness to go above and beyond. This is hard work (recognize effort)."

Approaching gratitude in this way provides inspiration, builds trust, creates a higher level of engagement, strengthens relationships and creates memorable, lasting moments. It is well worth the small amount of effort it takes, as opposed to a generic thank you. Investing time and thought into creating a culture of gratitude in your facility will lead to more engaged team members, while fostering a professional work environment of positivity and success.

This article originally appeared in the January | February 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "How to best express gratitude to employees." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.


AB Show 2023 in Baltimore
AB Show is a solution-focused event for athletics, fitness, recreation and military professionals.
Nov 1-4, 2023
Learn More
AB Show 2023
Buyer's Guide
Information on more than 3,000 companies, sorted by category. Listings are updated daily.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide