Thank your team

10 simple ways to thank your team this holiday season

As leaders we often find it particularly difficult to let go and make the most of the holiday season.

For some of us, the fiscal year ends with the calendar year and so we have all sorts of year-end reporting, planning for the new year, etcetera. That’s all while our staff and our families are gearing up for the break and likely feeling anxious, excited, happy, and stressed all at once.

How do we use this festive time to show staff we appreciate them AND reduce our own stress and burden at the same time? One word covers it all: gratitude.

You might have thought I was going to say, “Bonus.”  While more money and a bigger bonus may work to motivate some staff and it is one way to show them you appreciate them, it won’t work with everyone – and not to the depth of some other forms of gratitude.

Additionally, giving bonuses alone won’t reduce the stress on you, your team, or your organization.

Now, having said that, in our western culture, money does play a factor – so don’t completely discard the idea of compensating folks for their hard work. That’s essential, but think of it as the baseline of gratitude. You can, quite easily, do much more to thank your team that will be impactful for your staff and for you as well.

You see, showing gratitude is great not only for the person receiving it, but for the giver too.  We’ve seen study after study, and tangible proof in ourselves and our clients, that feeling gratitude and expressing it, bring both physical and psychological benefits, including:

    • Stronger relationships1
    • Fewer aches and pains 2
    • Sleeping better 3
    • Reducing aggression while increasing empathy 4
    • Reducing toxic emotions 5
    • Improving self-esteem 6
    • Greater resilience 7

Sounds miraculous, right? Well, tis the time of year for miracles…
Sounds too simple? Give showing gratitude a try; you might be amazed.

How do you show gratitude to thank your team? Well, first, remember to ask yourself that question for each team member individually, not for the team as a whole.

This is important because one approach won’t necessarily speak to everyone. Different people enjoy recognition, appreciation, and rewards in different ways, so cater your communication style to show your appreciation in the most effective way.

Here are our top 10 suggestions for ways to show gratitude to your team members:

  1. Hand deliver a thank you. Wrap small gifts, add a short handwritten note (with sincere and specific thanks for something each team member has contributed), and give the presents out by hand. It’s so much more meaningful to be given a gift personally, especially one with a heartfelt message. Plus you get to say thank you in person, too!
  2. Publicly recognize team members. Again, public recognition doesn’t work for everyone – and some folks hate this – but it can mean so much more than a gift or other reward to some team members. If you know they’ll appreciate it, seize moments to acknowledge extra efforts, exceptional skills, and meaningful contributions as they arise. This might be informally when you meet in the office, during a staff meeting, or as part of a celebratory lunch or dinner.
  3. Link their work to the company. Make the effort to say more than just a generic thank you for working hard; take a moment to really recognize someone’s personal contribution to the company. Acknowledge something specific a team member has done, thank them, and link their work to how they’ve had an impact on the organizational success. Often we hear from folks that they really don’t see how their work makes any difference. Helping them see that is enormous for them.
  4. Skip the holiday party and give a thank you party in the new year. At Padraig, we’re conscious of the diversity of our teams and recognize that Christmas is one holiday at this time of year, but not the only one.
    In a move away from religious-based holidays, we’ve shifted instead to a New Year’s celebration. Other corporations choose to offer a team celebration after the busy festive season. Tying the event in as a thank you rather than a holiday celebration shows even more gratitude to your team.
  5. Give them time to recognize their own team. If you have managers reporting to you who have folks reporting to them, give them time off (and a budget) to take their own staff out for an afternoon.
  6. Encourage journaling. If you’re a regular reader of The Coach’s Questions, you know we advocate journaling to help leaders be stronger and more resilient. In fact, the main reason it works is because we reflect on our gratitude as we write the journal entry.
    Share that gift with your team. Buy them a beautiful journal (remember our first note about hand delivering a thank you!) and talk with them about the benefits that accrue from journaling and being mindful – and why you want to give them those benefits.
  7. Schedule gratitude sessions in your meetings. This can become a habit that has a ripple effect throughout the organization. Simply schedule two to three minutes into every meeting agenda for team members to give spontaneous thanks to colleagues or others in the room. Be prepared to model it yourself the first few times.
  8. Set the tone; lead by example. Start including random acts of thanks in your daily routine. Don’t underestimate the impact of simply expressing gratitude and building relationships with your team in simple, but genuine, ways.
    Heading to a meeting? Think about what you’re grateful for, and mention it at the meeting. Walking to the breakroom? Thank some staff along the way – mentioning something specific that they’ve done or that they’re working on that you appreciate.
  9. Build opportunities to show gratitude along with your team. Find half a day where you can contribute to a charity or local good cause, and ask your team for input into who they’d like to help or where they would like to go. Maybe a local food bank could use your help packing care packages or a community services agency needs gifts for children.
    A lot of organizations that I’ve worked with contribute a holiday hamper to a family in need through a local charity. Sometimes this is just a donation of cash, or often it’s a box in a breakroom where staff can contribute food items and small gifts for the children.
    What if you changed it up and made this gesture of goodwill an event for your team? Take two to three hours one afternoon and you and your team make a field trip to a local store. Go with a list of everything you need and then shop together – some folks picking out the food, others the gifts, and some the extras (warm coats for the kids maybe?).
    You pick up the tab with the company credit card (ideally), but the whole team has an afternoon together, away from work, thinking about others and contributing to their own gratitude and happiness.
  10.  Give a bonus. While relying on a bonus alone as the only way to show gratitude won’t do enough for staff (and it won’t do much for you, either!), let’s not forget that your folks have a lot of bills at this time of year, too.
    If the company can afford it, don’t wait til Christmas Eve – give those holiday bonuses early so everyone feels the weight from extra financial demands lifted. Small gestures like this can have a huge impact.

The Coach’s Questions:

What ways to show gratitude are new for you? Can you think of things (or people) you take for granted? When have you been touched by someone expressing gratitude to you? How can you show your gratitude today?





1. Williams, L. A., & Bartlett, M. Y. (2015). Warm thanks: Gratitude expression facilitates social affiliation in new relationships via perceived warmth. Emotion, 15(1), 1-5.

2. Adler, M. G. and Fagley, N. S. (2005), Appreciation: Individual Differences in Finding Value and Meaning as a Unique Predictor of Subjective Well‐Being. Journal of Personality, 73: 79-114. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00305.x

3. Digdon, N. and Koble, A. (2011), Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 3: 193-206. doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01049.x

4. Nathan DeWall, C., Lambert, N. M., Pond, R. S., Kashdan, T. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 232–240.

5. Numerous works by Robert A. Emmons. Google Search

6. Lung Hung Chen & Chia-Huei Wu (2014) Gratitude Enhances Change in Athletes’ Self-Esteem: The Moderating Role of Trust in Coach, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 26:3, 349-362, DOI:10.1080/10413200.2014.889255

7. Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365-376.

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