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coworkers showing gratitude

Company culture
—it's more than a buzzword or the latest fad. Employees, job seekers, and customers look at a brand's company values to decide if they want to work there, do business with them, or buy their products. And the key ingredients of a positive company culture—gratitude and employee appreciation. Why? Because people want to feel valued, seen, and heard—and be part of an organization that reflects their values.

A culture of gratitude is more than a "nice to have"—but can lead to real, tangible bottom-line benefits. A company culture of gratitude has been linked to less stress, more positive emotions at work, as well as increased employee productivity, and higher job satisfaction. In fact, according to an employee recognition study, 40% of employed Americans say they'd put more energy into their job if they were recognized more often. And more engagement means more productive, happy employees—and that's good news for business.

Let's look at why gratitude is essential, what companies are doing to show their appreciation and the business benefits of a culture that isn't afraid to applaud their employees' hard work.

We're wired to crave recognition.

Abraham Maslow pointed out in his Hierarchy of Needs that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. One of these specific needs is esteem, which includes the need for respect, prestige, and self-worth. So, recognition is ingrained in us—we want to be seen and heard.

Genuine appreciation comes in different forms in the workplace—publicly during company-wide meetings, on an employee recognition platform, in one-on-one meetings, or simply through a handwritten note from a manager. But regardless of how it's delivered, employee recognition makes a huge difference in employee satisfaction.

In a workplace, employees are happier when they're recognized. According to a recent study of 1,600 personnel, 82% of employees consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work. And when employees are acknowledged, they're less likely to be looking for a new job. The same survey showed that 63% of staff who are "always" or "usually" recognized at work consider themselves "very unlikely" to seek a new job in the next 3-6 months. Talent acquisition for the best employees can be pricey—a better option is to hold on to every staff member you have, and a thank you is a good place to start.

Employee appreciation shouldn't be taken lightly—it's a key part of employee retention and can lead to tangible business benefits for the entire company.

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What's the ROI on gratitude?

So, we know employee appreciation is vital—but what's the ROI?

Several studies have been performed on the effects of employee recognition, and the results show that employee appreciation leads to better business outcomes.

  • Well-recognized employees rate their likelihood of working at the same company in one year as 27% higher than their less-recognized coworkers. (TINYpulse)

  • Almost 70% of employees and business leaders report that culture is more important to business success than strategy and operations. (PwC)

  • Employees who believe they will be recognized by their bosses are 2.7 times more likely to be highly engaged, according to one study.

  • In a recent study done by the American Psychological Association, researchers discovered that 93% of employees "who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work, and 88% reported feeling engaged."

It's really quite simple—When you authentically show your employees how much you appreciate them, they'll be more engaged, satisfied, and productive. And that leads to innovative thinking and a successful organization.

5 Brands Killin' It At Employee Appreciation

Organizations that focus on developing a culture of gratitude set themselves up for long-term success.

So, what's the best way to shower your employees with thanks?

Gratitude looks different for every company, but there are some common themes. So, we've rounded up five examples of companies that know what they're doing when it comes to thanking and supporting their teams.


Online retailer, Zappos, has a program called Zappos peer-to-peer incentive system that allows employees to recognize their peers for a job well done. A few incentives include—

  • Coworker Bonus Program—Zappos employees can give $50 bonuses to their teammates—no strings attached. These work-related "random acts of kindness" help build a culture of employee appreciation and gratitude.

  • Hero Award—Along with the Coworker Bonus Program, a HERO at Zappos is an employee who goes above and beyond their duties. These employees are nominated by their coworkers and then chosen by leadership. Winners receive a $50 bonus, a $150 Zappos gift card, and their own Zappos HERO cape (because every hero obviously deserves one).

  • Master of WOW Parking—It's pretty hot in Vegas (where Zappos is headquartered), and the coveted covered parking spots are a big deal. Zappos has a "Master of WOW" parking spot that goes weekly to an employee who embodies the company's WOW philosophy of going above and beyond in the workplace.

But it's not just about capes and gift cards—Zappos is strategic in its employee recognition. By giving employees the power to recognize one another, they've created a culture of gratitude that's core to their success.

02—Walt Disney World

The most magical place on earth demands cast members (what Disney calls its employees) to bring that magic to life every day. That's why Walt Disney World is known for its distinctive company culture of gratitude resulting in team members dedicated to excellence and exceeding customer expectations. And Walt Disney World is constantly looking for new ways to acknowledge employee achievements.

cast member

Recognizing Employees With Disney Magic

Gratitude is more than pixie dust at Disney—it's part of the company's DNA. From the moment a new worker joins the company, they're immersed in a culture of appreciation. Walt Disney World has over one hundred awards recognizing employee achievements, big and small. Such as one of the most prestigious awards for "cast members," the Walt Disney Legacy Award. This honor is presented at an annual award ceremony recognizing outstanding performance.

But it's not just about the awards—Disney also showcases employee achievements privately and publically. Disney's use of crowdsourced recognition is an inventive way to support employee engagement. Walt Disney World launched #CastCompliments on social media to get the public involved. Guests can post cast member appreciation via social media, presented for all the world to see, and also placed in the formal work record of a cast member for leadership to acknowledge.

Gratitude leads to significant gains for Walt Disney World. One effective employee recognition program resulted in a 15% increase in staff satisfaction with their day-to-day acknowledgment by their immediate supervisors. These findings were also linked to high guest satisfaction ratings, which suggested a strong desire and intent to return and, as a result, enhanced profitability for Disney.


Ranked as 2nd on the 2021 World's Best Workplaces, tech giant Cisco has placed employee mental health and well-being as a top priority. Understanding how well-being impacts employee productivity, Cisco aims to increase employee retention and engagement.

An element of well-being includes employee appreciation. To make employees feel appreciated, Cisco has a global peer-to-peer recognition program called "Connected Recognition." This is a Cisco-branded employee recognition and reward program based on the company values and funded at 1% of payroll.

"Recognition is an investment in people. It's going to retain talent. If you've got the right talent, you're going to drive revenue growth. It's an initial investment with a future payoff.

Gabrielle Thompson, Senior Vice President, Acquisitions & Totals Rewards, Cisco

Cisco sought to modernize its employee appreciation program and give team members the power to reward peers. Connected Recognition enabled Cisco to drive engagement with more frequent, smaller awards given throughout the year leading to 85% of employees giving or receiving awards in the first year and 95% of employees stating that Cisco is a great place to work.

airline employee


Southwest Airlines is a repeat winner of Forbes America's Best Employers. And it's no surprise—the airline's commitment to their employees is equal to that of their customers. People love working at Southwest.

And the currency of gratitude at Southwest is Southwest Airlines Gratitude (SWAG) points. Great employees earn these through perfect attendance, outstanding efforts, and other achievements. Employees can use their SWAG points to buy items from the company store, dozens of gift cards, travel Guest Passes, or event tickets.

But, SWAG points aren't the only way Southwest acknowledges the hard work of their entire team. They put their money where their mouth is in the form of profit-sharing with employees. In 2021, they distributed $230 million in employee profit-sharing. And this was on top of the $677 million they gave to employees in 2019 and $586 million in 2017.

To quote former Southwest CEO Gary Kelly in 2017, "Our people-first approach, which has guided our company since it was founded, means when our company does well, our people do really, really well. Our people work incredibly hard and deserve to share in Southwest's success."

Southwest has embraced the idea that employees want to be acknowledged for their efforts and prefer to work in an upbeat and supportive environment. But the truth is, while SWAG points and profit sharing are nice, not all recognition has to be large. Southwest is also known to find small yet intimate ways to thank their teams, such as on birthdays, employment anniversaries, and other occasions.

Southwest's investment in employees has paid off. The airline has been profitable for 47 consecutive years—and that's pretty remarkable in the highly volatile airline industry.


When it comes to the workplace, gratitude has the potential to change everything. A company that practices gratitude can go from being a poorly engaged company to a great place to work. This is what happened to grocery store chain Meijer.

The grocery store industry is well known for having the highest employee turnover rates. Faced with problems retaining top talent and low employee engagement, Meijer identified recognition as being key to turning the tide on employee morale. The company rolled out mteam, a global recognition program that allows employees worldwide to nominate each other for awards. Meijer also launched Meijer Wire, a mobile-friendly app that facilitates recognition with an easy-to-use interface. Employees can give and receive awards, find articles about fellow team members, and access company news at the touch of a button.

What's the take of Meijer employees on the new recognition program?

Meijer team members were won over by these programs, as 82% of personnel are logged onto mteam, and 64% log onto the platform monthly. Three years after launching mteam, Meijer has achieved 10 million recognition experiences and celebrated its first year as a certified "Great Place to Work."

Our team members love mteam, and the program has become an integral part of our company culture. It has helped us increase team member engagement and drive business impact.

Faith Swanson, Recognition and Engagement Manager, Meijer

coworkers working together

Create a company culture where employees feel appreciated.

Eighty-two percent of employed Americans believe that their supervisors don't appreciate what they do for them. Employees across all industries are feeling under-recognized, and it hurts. It hurts employee morale, it hurts productivity, and it hurts a company's success.

So how can you infuse gratitude into your company culture and give kudos to your team?

The good news is that it's both straightforward and inexpensive for leaders to overcome the recognition deficit in their organizations. You don't need fancy platforms or employee recognition software to reward employees. Just a little effort and intention make all the difference.

Here are a few things you can do to start showing your employees some much-needed appreciation.

  • Recognize employees for a job well done, either publicly or privately.

  • Have a monthly or quarterly employee appreciation day.

  • Allow employees to nominate their coworkers for awards.

  • Celebrate employee milestones, such as work anniversaries and birthdays.

  • Send handwritten thank-you notes to employees.

At the end of the day, building a culture of gratitude comes down to the most common sense business practices—don't take your people for granted. This means saying thank you and meaning it, being generous with recognition, and always looking for ways to show your staff how much you appreciate them.

Connect With Employees

Stay in lock-step with your employees and customers, and discover how you can show them appreciation every step of the way. Let's work together to reach your goals.