group of happy employees standing around a laptop
From facilitating peer-to-peer recognition to writing a personal thank-you card, exhibiting kindness will not only improve your own happiness but also that of your employees. — Getty Images/Goodboy Picture Company

For many Americans, 2020 has been one of the most difficult years in recent history. The pandemic has started to impact the mental health of many, with nearly 25% of people in the U.S. reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Kindness and positivity in the work environment can make all the difference in facing the challenges of the pandemic. Studies have shown that even small gestures, such as offering a coworker a piece of fruit at lunch, can significantly lower depression and stress.

Here are five steps you can take to be a positive force at work and improve the morale of those around you.

[Read more: 6 Tips for Adapting Your Leadership Style in the Post-COVID World]

Say “thank you”

Research has linked gratitude and positivity in a number of ways, according to Harvard Health. Managers who say thank you to their team members often find that those employees are more motivated to work productively. Employees who receive positive feedback are also more likely to be engaged with their work projects. Even the simple act of expressing gratitude can lead to feeling happier.

“You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life,” reported Harvard. “Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month.”

Pay it forward

Set the tone for others in your workspace or professional network. “One of the best ways to honor the contribution of others in your life is to help someone who could use your support right now,” Cheryl Hyatt, partner at Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search, told CO–. “Write a referral. Make an introduction. It could be as simple as writing an endorsement on someone’s LinkedIn profile. Make a goal to do one kindness for a colleague each week for the next month and see how the practice enriches your work life.”

Lead by example and show others how to practice kindness. By treating others with compassion, support and grace, you will inspire others to do the same and establish how you expect to be treated in return.

Make a goal to do one kindness for a colleague each week for the next month and see how the practice enriches your work life.

Cheryl Hyatt, partner, Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search

Find ways to connect

Remote work can cause many employees to feel isolated or lonely. Not only are some workers not commuting to an office every day, but some are not able to see friends or family as regularly as usual. Humans are social creatures, and precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 can contribute to negativity or depression.

Hyatt recommends finding ways to still connect while respecting pandemic restrictions. “Be creative to find ways to safely connect with colleagues. Facilitate an online panel discussion on the challenges of working remotely. Host a Zoom happy hour. Make a virtual lunch or coffee appointment with a colleague,” she said.

Keep in mind that networking is crucial for long-term career success. Mentally reframe your perception of socializing around the water cooler: These everyday conversations aren’t wasting time, but actually give life to our days. Look for ways to build a company culture for your remote employees.

[Read more: 7 Ways to Improve Company Culture Remotely]

Recognize adaptability

It’s a well-researched fact that employee recognition leads to higher productivity, engagement and happiness at work. However, what your company chooses to recognize matters as much, if not more, than the actual act of recognizing someone.

“Savvy employers will recognize that the stressors, needs, and business patterns are different during the pandemic with many employees working from home,” said Hyatt. “Recognize the employees who are innovating and making the most of a challenging situation. Have an employee who is efficient and engaged on Slack? Give them kudos on that platform. Is an employee going the extra mile for client care during this disconnected time? Recognize them in your next all-company meeting.”

Make sure your recognition is authentic, specific to the person and delivered in a timely manner. Show that you appreciate what someone has done to evolve in these challenging times.

Facilitate peer-to-peer recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition, employees who show appreciation for each other’s work in a public setting, is shown to have a significant impact on morale, productivity and overall business success. A study by SHRM found that peer-to-peer recognition is 35.7% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition.

How can you facilitate peer recognition? Use your Slack channels to shout out team members who have accomplished a personal or professional goal so others can give kudos. Or, Hyatt suggests setting up a separate Google email inbox where employees can call out one another for a job well done. Building a culture of recognition can go a long way to enforcing positivity in your workplace.

While you may be feeling anything but positive at the moment, Hyatt says even taking small steps to help boost morale will help your business in the long run. “It’s important for leaders to take a long view. Many organizations have weathered significant challenges throughout their history, from world wars to recessions. This is not meant to minimize the hardship of the moment, but be inspired by the resilience of the leaders who guided your organization through past challenges.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published November 16, 2020