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The CFO Guide to Gratitude

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You think you need a reward program. What you need is a gratitude program that happens to include rewards. We hope you don’t let your company miss the mark when they start talking about ‘Employee Engagement’ initiatives.

Show me the money...

Someone says, “We need better employee engagement.” Someone else says, “We did a survey and need more recognition.” Someone else says, “We need a wellness program.” Someone else says, “The employees want rewards!”. Everyone knows these statements are a precursor to losing top talent.

If you are reading this it’s likely because your company is thinking about doing something more for the team. Gallup reports that only 22% of employees are engaged in their work. If you could increase engagement, here’s what you stand to gain:

  • Health costs for engaged employees are 41% less than their counterparts and 62% less than those of employees who are actively disengaged — this is largely due to benefits of positive mental health accompanying work that’s rewarding — or maybe employees with a more positive disposition view work as more rewarding than those who do not
  • Turnover for this same group is 32% less
  • Productivity for this same group is 13% higher
  • Profitability increases by 22%

You get it... if your employees are in a situation where positivity abounds, there are great benefits for your individual team members and financial benefits for your organization. We hope you are reading this because Motivosity is in the mix of potential solutions.

Motivosity isn’t like the other solutions though. Motivosity is for leaders who ‘get it’. Please give us a moment to explain what ‘it’ is and help you, as someone who protects the company’s resources, to understand the value of a concept that many people find a little bit elusive - the gratitude cycle.

Reward perks are deceptive

The traditional response to ‘we need more recognition’ is to think of ways to give people stuff. Better yet... combine it with wellness- related stuff and kill two birds with one stone. This is where companies start thinking tactically about how they can give better service awards, birthday gifts, and empower managers to motivate teams by giving out rewards to, you know, keep the little people motivated.

We are officially calling BS on that concept. It’s the ‘thanks’ that matters, not just the stuff. Let’s get real for just a second... when was the last time receiving a perk or company swag changed your relationship with your boss or impacted your connection to your coworkers? If ever, how long did that last? Maybe for a day? Then Monday happens and it’s business as usual. In the book, “Everybody Matters” by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia (great book BTW), there is a story of an employee who was rewarded with a peer-nominated award. His comment about the award was, “It’s nice to know after 32 years that I made a difference”. This is not a success story, it’s a failure story!

The problem with significant rewards and awards isn’t that they are bad... it was great for that person to learn after 32 years of his contribution that he was appreciated. It’s that they lack the regularity and frequency needed to really change the engagement dynamic within an organization.

They are a good step in the right direction, but aren’t even close to the most effective step you can take.

Here’s why reward perks can be deceptive. People often believe that only something significant will make a difference in motivation; and since they can’t afford to give out significant awards every day they get stuck between two hard choices; either give out something significant to 5% of your workforce annually, or risk looking like a cheapskate to your employees by giving out something smaller more regularly. Not a fun place to be. What if I told you a more impactful approach to engagement actually costs significantly less than traditional top- performer rewards programs?

Employees don’t want stuff anyway

Did you know that your employees would take a 10% pay cut to have a better relationship with their boss? Did you know that employees who feel connected to their peers will also be less likely to take a similar job for 10% more money?

OK... perks don’t change lives and people want better quality relationships at work. Can you give a quality relationship as a perk? Some companies give out ‘lunch with the boss’ as a perk... eww... lunch is much better when it’s due to a great working relationship rather than something you win.

What you can give out is something that motivates people to change a behavior, which results in better relationships across the board. The behavior we’re talking about is expressing gratitude and what you can give out is a small nudge that helps create a virtuous cycle of gratitude in your company. That gratitude cycle delivers more engaged employees, who are more willing to contribute than you thought was possible.

It’s not the gift, it’s the giving

The exciting news is that you don’t have to give someone something so big that the reward motivates them to be loyal, you only need to give everyone something big enough to motivate them to make an effort to regularly find the good around them.

It turns out that something is $5/month. Technically $3-$5, but that’s all it takes. When you give an employee five one-dollar bills and tell them to go find five people to give a dollar to along with a public thank you, you get five opportunities to build relationships, five opportunities to reinforce company values, and five opportunities to focus on the good. When you give everyone in the company $5 along with this do the math. That’s a lot of priceless positivity floating around. The power of peer positivity puts top-down benevolent gift giving to shame.

What you need to understand about this process is that the five dollars isn’t a perk or another way to give people a gift, it’s not a way to motivate someone to work harder, and it’s most definitely not a reward for completing something big; it’s your investment in bringing about a behavioral change that will have massive impact on the way your team views life on and off the court. The fact that everybody participates and not just managers means that everybody has a consistent positive experience – even if over time a manager here or there is late to the party.

Gratitude is a skill and a mindset that takes time to learn. This is why a key aspect of this investment is a monthly use-it-or-lose-it infusion. Every month people get a clean slate and reminder to practice this important skill – and the biggest reward isn’t a dollar, it’s the goodwill generated by the participants – the giver, the receiver, and the observers seeing it happen.

We hope that when you think about the biggest impact you can make in your company for rewards, recognition, or engagement, that you’ll remember that it’s not gifts that change people, it’s gratitude.

A few words about the science...

There is a lot of science and psychology behind workplace motivation and gratitude. Here are some tips for getting it right.

Loss Aversion

The reason that giving people a few use-it-or- lose-it dollars at the beginning of the month is so effective at changing behavior has to do with loss aversion psychology. Did you know that you’re twice as motivated to not lose something than you are to gain something? This is the nudge that is powerful enough to start you on your gratitude journey.


We all know about this by studying why social media is so powerful. Let that science work for you in the office. When someone gives something of value, it releases dopamine, which impacts work performance. One dollar has value. One gold star, 5 Schrute bucks, a Stanley nickel, or 100 points do not because the value has been abstracted. People who express gratitude experience dopamine similar to those who receive it.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology helps us understand that focusing on the good impacts job performance more than focusing on weaknesses. Positive psychology is the study of what makes life worth living. Since the workplace is where we spend the majority of that ‘living’ time – positive psychology has a lot to offer those who want their employees to have a job worth having.

Lab Rat Effect

When engagement or reward programs are top-down, they have a subconscious effect that undermines the program itself. When they are top-down, they remind employees that they are just lowly untrusted employees. When it comes to recognition, you don’t want people feeling like they’re just mice running through someone else’s maze. You want them to feel empowered and trusted. Don’t do any recognition program that is ONLY top-down.

Gratitude Halo

Gratitude has a halo effect in companies that includes more positive emotion, fewer health complaints, greater job confidence, greater job performance, and higher job satisfaction. When you want to make a lasting change, focus on how to build gratitude among all employees.

So what?

Hopefully you’ve taken this opportunity to dive deep into how building a culture of gratitude and connectedness is the single most cost effective way to solve the ‘employee engagement’ problem your leadership team has been talking about.

We bid you success in your journey. We personally find great satisfaction hearing from CFOs who out-EQ their CHRO/CPO counterparts on solutions that benefit the entire organization. Share your story with us when you’re ready. Better yet, let us share other company’s stories with you!