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We strive to share insights based on diverse experiences without stigma or shame. This is a powerful voice.

It’s been a tough year. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, many are experiencing negative effects in both their personal and work lives.

People are experiencing burnout and increased stress. In fact, the American Psychological Association reported in February 2021 that stress levels in the U.S. population were the highest since the early days of the pandemic.

These factors, as well as the feeling of being underappreciated, have caused many to resign or think about leaving their job — a phenomenon now called “The Great Resignation.”

Many people are craving meaning and connection after all the turmoil and upheaval they’ve experienced.

The holiday season is a great opportunity to reflect on all we’ve received and thank the people who mean a lot to us, including at work.

This year especially, letting your co-workers and employees know how much you value them may be more important than ever.

PepsiCo’s former CEO Indra Nooyi harnessed the power of a thank you note when she wrote hundreds of letters to her leadership team’s parents, praising their children and thanking them for supporting their child’s work for the company. This thoughtful action was cherished by her employees and their families and probably contributed to Nooyi’s 75% approval rating.

A few kind words can make a big difference. Consider sending a special holiday greeting email or video to your co-workers or employees, or a good old-fashioned card. Try mentioning something specific that you value about the person or a project you shared. A callback to an inside joke can also be great.

The message doesn’t have to be long or eloquent. A card with an inscription like, “To Deb, Thanks for your wizard Excel skills! I am so glad to have you as a co-worker and friend. All best in 2022, Dave” would be welcome and kind.

The goal is to let the person know that you see and truly value them.

A small token in the form of a gift can also be a good way to thank your work colleagues. Still, it’s important to be aware of any company or personal restrictions and avoid creating favoritism.

Over the years, I have given potted plants, scarf and hat sets, and many gifts of homemade food. I generally choose to give identical or nearly identical gifts, because I don’t want to create a sense of favoritism (as a mother of three kids, I manage enough “she got the one I want!” at home).

However, if you can provide personalized gifts that are of roughly the same value, that can be wonderful. You may want to consider:

  • books tailored to each person’s interests
  • sets of coffee, tea, or cocoa
  • small, funny desk toys like action figures or bobbleheads

Secret gift exchanges can also be fun — as long as participation is voluntary. If “Secret Santa” isn’t your thing, Bustle has some good ideas for alternative gift-giving games, including thematic gifts (where all the gifts are board games or tech accessories, for instance) or a re-gift exchange along the lines of White Elephant.

As you think through gifts, it’s important to check if your workplace has a policy on gift-giving. Some policies place limits on the cost of the gift, and many forbid giving gifts to superiors. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers good advice on setting limits on gifts.

A woman I worked with was of a religion that barred celebrations of holidays. For years, I fretted over how to consider her in my holiday gift-giving. Ignore her? Give her a gift and hope it didn’t offend her?

Finally, I just asked her.

I said, “You know, I normally give out gifts at this time of year and I want to include you in that but I also want to be respectful of your religion. Would it be all right to give you a gift?”

She was kind and gracious and seemed glad to be asked, responding, “As long as the gift is not a Christmas present but is an acknowledgment of thanks for my work throughout the year, that is absolutely fine.”

I was so relieved! That was something I could do. Her potted plant that year included a white ribbon and a general thank you card.

We are a broad and diverse nation and likely your workplace is, too. Our effort to show our care for those we work with will be undermined if we do it in a way that doesn’t show that we truly know and respect them.

The key is to be thoughtful, and if you don’t know, ask.

This year is tricky when it comes to planning end-of-year festivities because there are still so many uncertainties about COVID-19 risk and often restrictions in place. We may not feel comfortable with the standard end-of-year in-person event, but we don’t want to miss important opportunities for connection.

There are plenty of ways to bond without a big holiday party blowout, though.

BlueBoard offers some great ideas, including organizing a company-wide Spotify playlist or arranging for team members to meet up for an outdoor event like a lights display.

Another option may be a group-wide charitable event, like sponsoring a local family for holiday giving or donating backpacks for kids in foster care.

Still, while it’s important to try and make events as inclusive as possible, be mindful and respectful of people who decide to take a step back from holiday events for whatever reason.

Saying thanks to those who help us succeed and make our work lives more pleasant is important in bringing joy to others. But it also brings joy to us.

Gratitude is a powerful mood shifter, affecting our outlook and even our health.

One 10-week 2003 study found that participants who focused on their blessings and things they were grateful for:

  • felt better about their lives
  • were more optimistic
  • had fewer health complaints
  • spent more time exercising

When I’m feeling low, one of my go-to ways to feel better is to write a quick thank you note, email, or text to someone I value.

I love knowing that I’ve brightened someone’s day, and the shift in focus to all that I have makes me feel lighter and happier.

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on those who make our lives better. Maybe we can try to bring that same spirit to the rest of the year, as well.

As we end the year, thoughtful gratitude to those with whom we work can build connection and lift up their moods as well as our own.

There are many ways to express that gratitude, so try finding something that feels right for you.