Building a Culture of Care: Showing Appreciation for Your Public Health Team

December 12, 2022 | Liljana Baddour, Chris Taylor

Misection photo of a woman making a heart symbol with her handsIt’s the holiday season, and team members—especially leaders and supervisors—often use this time of year to communicate their gratitude for their employees, colleagues, and community partners. As part of ASTHO’s Public Health – Hope, Equity, Resilience, and Opportunity initiative, we are using this space to highlight some acts of thanks for organization leaders and supervisors to consider.

Gratitude is an important part of caring for your team

The most recent Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey found that nearly a third of the public health workforce are considering leaving their organization in the next year. Some reasons for this include burnout/work overload, stress, and organizational climate/culture. Identifying opportunities for leaders to meaningfully increase expressions of appreciation can be an important step in addressing some of the underlying stress and burnout staff have experienced in the recent past.

Expressing gratitude benefits both the receiver and the giver

Expressing gratitude not only benefits the person receiving the appreciation, but also the person expressing their gratitude. Research has shown that expressing gratitude is associated with greater happiness. It can help people improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Meaningfully increasing the sharing of appreciation and gratitude with your team is a win-win!

Easy and Free Ideas for Showing Gratitude

Here are some examples of actions that leaders at any level might consider to express their gratitude:

  1. Presence is a great gift. Schedule time to attend team meetings throughout your organization. Ask to sit with employees during lunch or breaks. Learn more about them, their work, and their interests.
  2. Write it down. Consider writing personalized notes thanking members of your team. Check out these thoughts on how to write a meaningful thank you note. Some people keep cards or notes of kindness, and then take them out of the drawer to read on a tough day.
  3. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Encourage staff to take a photo (being mindful of privacy of anyone in photo) representing how their work supports the organization’s goals. Print out photos or compile them virtually for a showcase. Host an in-person or virtual event around the photos submitted and highlight strengths of the agency.
  4. Publicly—and privately—recognize employees and teams for their work. Whether in support of an organizational priority through their work, or something noteworthy they may do outside of work, recognizing employees for the contributions they make to their communities is important. This recognition could occur in staff meetings, all-staff emails, newsletters, handwritten notes, emails, or phone calls. Consider making it a standing agenda item to kick off a meeting allowing anyone to give a shoutout.
  5. Practice inclusion. Another way to show gratitude is to include staff in discussions and meetings in which they may not normally participate. By actively seeking their participation and input, you demonstrate the value they bring to the organization, as well as your appreciation of their expertise and perspective.
  6. Foster peer to peer appreciation: Encourage leadership team, supervisors, and staff to express their appreciation using these same ideas. By modeling consistent, frequent, and meaningful expressions of gratitude, it will become an even more noticeable and valued part of your organization’s culture.

How do you demonstrate appreciation in your organization?

Consider asking yourself some questions about how you demonstrate thanks. What are some strategies that you and your leadership team have explored to ensure your team feels appreciated and valued? How might you implement some of the above actions in your workplace? How might a culture of care be strengthened in your workplace by employees seeing their leaders model a variety of methods of appreciation? If you haven’t already, try one of these ideas out this month.

This is an excellent time of year to identify opportunities to express gratitude. However, employees want this communication throughout the year, too. By being intentional about how these actions are made a part of our routine, they will become a natural and consistent part of how we do business. As with so many skills, the more we practice them, the better we become at using the skills.

Building a culture of gratitude can be achieved if the entire organization works to meaningfully increase the expression of thanks. Organizational leaders can encourage and model this as an important and expected value within the organization.