Gratitude is more than cupcakes

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Many organizations want to celebrate employees. However, the way they do this is to throw parties with pizza and cupcakes. But do parties motivate employees? Does this create a culture where employees do the best work of their lives?

Science tells us that employees do their best work when there is a sense of shared purpose in the organization. Trust, motivation, engagement, and happiness all increase when employees feel connected to shared purpose.

As management strategist Peter Drucker says, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”Even the most logical and sound organizational strategy will fall apart without a sense of shared purpose.

Shared purpose, according to Harvard Business Review, “is a natural expression of who we are and what we stand for.” Having a shared purpose gives a sense of direction for employees who feel their work matters. When employees feel a sense of shared purpose, each can emotionally connect to the mission of the larger organization. Organizations who think and work together with this sense of shared purpose are also the happiest and most successful. For example, the mission of SpaceX is making life multiplanetary. Whether a knowledge worker or manufacturing employee, each is infused with this purpose greater than themselves.

How can an organization cultivate this sense of shared purpose?

Creating a culture of gratitude

Positivity and gratitude are heart-centered emotions. You need to pause and feel them. You need to think of the person, their action, how they make you feel, and how you value those actions.

Organizations can build a connection to shared purpose by building a culture of gratitude year-round, not just on Employee Appreciation Day. By creating a constant flow of gratitude, a culture of positivity emerges, which increases engagement and productivity.

Some best practices when expressing gratitude include:

  1. The gratitude moment must be more than a “thank you.” The moment should include the story of what the individual did and what it meant to the person giving the recognition and to the organization.
  2. The moment should also tie to the greater purpose of the organization. Infusing gratitude with how the work contributed to greater organizational goals enhances the sense of shared purpose.
  3. Make it public. When the gratitude is shared with the organization through social recognition, it reminds and connects other employees to a sense of purpose.

Building mastery

Another way to show employee appreciation is through learning and growth. Employees need to feel a sense of progress, not just in their day-to-day work, but also in their skills and capabilities. When individuals feel they are growing and this growth is tied to shared purpose, then engagement, productivity, and connection to the organization increases. This contributes to a culture where individuals can do their best work.

Learning is an ongoing process between an employee, their manager, peers, and even mentors. By building goals with mentors and peers, individuals leverage the knowledge and support of the organization, increasing the sense of shared purpose and connection. 

Celebrating together

Sure, pizza and cupcakes are delicious. But when you celebrate both work and personal events throughout the year, this creates a deep emotional connection between individuals and to your company. Acknowledge the important life events – buying a house, getting married, or having a child.

Celebrating shared humanity helps everyone feel they’re working toward a shared purpose. The outcome is improved engagement, motivation, productivity, and accelerated organizational growth.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with throwing a party with pizza and cupcakes today. Just remember that employees do their best work with sugar and a sense of shared purpose. You can build that shared purpose throughout the year with human applications that encourage gratitude, learning, and shared humanity.