By Tiana H. Hardison, Esq.

With Thanksgiving approaching, many of us are thinking about how we will celebrate this year. Some are planning turkey dinners with family and friends, while many others won’t be able to celebrate with loved ones physically and will be forced to skip this treasured tradition this year or resort to a meal shared virtually. But Thanksgiving is still the time when we focus on what and whom we are grateful for. We reflect and count our blessings. This spirit of gratitude and the act of expressing appreciation for those we care about is needed this year more than ever – in our offices as well as in our families. 

In fact, businesses all over the country are recognizing the benefits of fostering a culture of gratitude and appreciation, not just at Thanksgiving but throughout the year. Many companies are finding that taking measures to create a company culture of gratitude yields significant returns on various levels – such as increased employee productivity, job satisfaction, staff retention and improved work product!   

We’ve long known the benefits of affirmation and appreciation. Who doesn’t like hearing that they’ve done a good job or that the work they are doing matters? The more we feel appreciated, acknowledged, and affirmed, the happier we are and the harder most of us work to do a good job. It’s human nature. It starts when we can barely walk, proceeds through our school-age years, and continues throughout our adult life. In our personal lives, we readily recognize how our mood and motivation improves when our spouse shows they appreciate the work we’ve done at home or for our family. We see how well our children respond when they are praised for doing a good job at their chores or studies. 

Just as in our personal relationships, affirmation works wonders in the business setting, too. When our staffs feel appreciated and affirmed, they are much more apt to go that extra mile to do their best work. When we show that we value their insights and welcome their ideas, they are more likely to feel vested in what we are trying to accomplish. Feeling affirmed not only boosts our confidence and self-worth but causes most of us to push even harder. Your staff and associate attorneys are no different. 

Being grateful for your staff and showing it in meaningful ways, both big and small, can transform your firm. Taking action to create a firm culture of gratitude and affirmation can be a powerful catalyst that takes your firm to an entirely new level. Productivity can increase, stressful environments can dissipate, and morale improves. And when your employees are happy, guess what? Your clients will be happier too. It’s a domino effect.  

If they aren’t getting it from us, we cannot expect our employees to show our clients kindness, respect, empathy, and appreciation. As Ken Hardison, Personal Injury Lawyers Marketing and Management’s (PILMMA) President puts it, “If you want your employees to be good to your clients, you need to be good to your employees, first. If you want your clients happy, you need to make your employees happy first.”

Many law firm owners show their employees appreciation through financial rewards or incentives, such as the Christmas bonus. I’m certainly not suggesting that you stop providing these financial rewards or incentives to your employees. They are tangible and concrete expressions that show you value your staff and want them to share in your firm’s success. But what I am suggesting is that by taking some simple steps, you can create a Firm Culture of Gratitude in your law firm that reaps benefits for you, your staff, and your clients all year long. These benefits may be more powerful and sustaining motivators than financial incentives. 

In fact, The London School of Economics conducted extensive research and concluded that financial incentives may reduce an employee’s natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so. Glassdoor conducted a study that found that 80% of the employees polled would work harder if they felt their employer appreciated their efforts, and 70% said their self-image and attitude would be improved if their employer thanked them more regularly! (Vozza, The Science of Gratitude and Why it’s Important In Your Workplace, 11/14/16, Fast Company) 

Psychology professor and gratitude researcher Robert Emmons considers gratitude vital to the workplace because it acts as a disinfectant against “exploitation, complaint, entitlement, gossip and negativity that often exist in the workplace. “Id. At the University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton School put this theory to test by dividing people into two groups and asking them to make fundraising calls to solicit alumni donations. One group was given a pep talk of encouragement before making the calls, and the other group wasn’t. And guess what? The group that received the pep talk made a whopping 50% more calls than the group that didn’t. Id.” 

In his classic 7 Habits of Successful People, William Covey explains the importance of affirmation and appreciation this way: “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival- to be understood, to be validated, and to be appreciated.” 

So how do you, as a law firm owner create a culture of gratitude? Here are some simple suggestions: 

  • Creating Culture starts at the top. Make it a practice in your weekly and monthly firm meetings to acknowledge the positive efforts of your team. During Covid, these meetings are probably virtual, but you can still provide valuable affirmation and acknowledgment. Make it a part of how you start off your weekly or monthly meetings. Be specific. 
  • Thank the individual members- Be on the lookout for exemplary performance and call it out publicly.
  • Take the time to send a handwritten thank-you note or a personal email to employees when they do something well. Encourage your staff to do the same for each other.
  • Let your firm in on what you are trying to do. Let them know that you want your law firm to be a place where we cheer each other on and acknowledge each other’s efforts. Let them know that you want to create this kind of Gratitude Culture and that you need their help to do so. 
  • Make sure you recognize employees on their birthdays and service anniversaries and post it on social media with a photo highlighting that employee’s contribution to the firm.  
  • Host impromptu surprise celebrations at work- such as bringing in pizza or cookies with a giant thank you note to your staff.  
  • Create a physical bulletin board or a virtual one that recognizes acts of kindness and exceptional client service. Encourage employees to post thank you notes to each other on the board. Encourage employees to post whenever they see another employee “caught” in the act of kindness. 
  • Set up an employee suggestion box, literally or virtually, and encourage employees to submit their ideas for making the firm run better- and then acknowledge those suggestions and suggestions and implement them whenever possible. 
  • Send out firm-wide emails of thanks and appreciation throughout the year as employees help you meet targeted quarterly goals. 
  • Send out individual emails or handwritten notes to staff when you notice they’ve handled a situation well or stepped up to cover responsibilities when another employee is out sick or tied up in another project. Recognize when team members have exemplified the team spirit you want to see in your workplace. 

The last year has been a tough time for many of us all across the country and within our firms and firm families. Many of your staff have lost loved ones or suffered illnesses. We all need to create as much positivity as possible. Your employees are facing difficult challenges and are feeling stress just as you are. Creating a culture of gratitude is a wise law firm practice in general but all the more important during these difficult times. 

As we enter into the Thanksgiving season, and as you start planning your firm’s initiatives for 2022, why not institute your own Gratitude culture experiment? Take the time and make the concerted effort to express gratitude, appreciation, and affirmation to your employees, and encourage them to do the same with one another. Such measures can be transformational – improving attitudes, productivity, performance, morale, retention, and your law firm’s bottom line.

For more strategies to help you Grow YOUR Law Firm and Improve your Firm’s Marketing & Management, check out PILMMA’s website and free resources, membership and PILMMA Mastermind Groups www.pilmma.org