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Thanksgiving at Work

A monthly event where employees and leaders join for a shared lunch break on changing topics around the personal understanding of gratitude.

Photo of Monika Jiang

Written by

Thanksgiving at Work is an initiative where both employees and leaders are given the chance to engage and interact in a casual atmosphere, enjoying great food and contributing to a monthly topic of the different aspects of gratitude. While the definition of gratitude varies between individuals, the tradition of Thanksgiving and food culture, in general, could work as a common ground. 

Every monthly Thanksgiving could start by giving thanks for the great food that could be cooked together, delivered or else, depending on the company size and budget. Then, in smaller groups or with the whole team, employees and leaders could volunteer on sharing their thoughts and anecdotes on the monthly topic around gratitude - e.g.: "What I am thankful for in my career so far/What I have learned about appreciation as a leader / I am thankful for the failure XYZ /" 

The list of topics could be crowdsourced by the people. Also, Thanksgiving at Work could be implemented into a corporate social platform, where people could vote for the next monthly topic, decide for their preferred meal or recipe and share thoughts and pictures of the monthly gathering. 

To add an educational aspect to the concept, a zero-waste meal could be offered, e.g. cooked out of legally 'rescued' food/in cooperation with initiatives like Resq or Foodsharing. That's how discussions at the table could support conviviality and an increased consciousness for sharing gratitude. 

The purpose of this idea is to bring people together in a surrounding where gratitude comes almost naturally into play whereas feedback tools and other might be helpful on peer-to-peer and serve a benefit for performance management, though I do believe that these more community-like events could help smaller and bigger corporations to start shifting their culture as a whole, while letting the people decide and contribute to a shared experience.   

Idea Title

Thanksgiving at Work

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

By combining food and gratitude, you'll create a natural common ground for employees and leaders to connect and open up about their understandings of gratitude. It's important for leaders to get highly involved from the start, as they still serve as role models. By planning each monthly lunch under a certain topic, the organization will get the chance to embrace the cultural differences and social backgrounds of their workforce, getting a broader understanding of people's needs and wants at work. Also, adding Thanksgiving at Work to the social platform will simplify the process of facilitation and keeping the conversation around gratitude going online and remote.

Who are you innovating for?

Leaders - For future leadership, it will become more and more important to show personality, vulnerabilities, and stories that connect to individuals. Also, once you open up as a leader, gratitude towards yourself won't be far away. Employees - Empowerment of contribution in a company-wide event, build new connections across teams, grow personally.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

Could be applied to any organizational size from 5-10 to larger corporations around the US and Europe. However, food plays an important role in Asia (China, Korea, India etc.), I could imagine experimenting with Thanksgiving at Work there as well.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

1. Develop initial idea to prototype with an interdisciplinary team of volunteering employees and at least 2 dedicated leaders (>> Sprint process over 1 month) 2. Implement in selected department, try & error, iterate and improve idea (1 month), gain feedback from team and whole organization 3. Start communication plan inside the organization 4. With final approvement of workforce and leadership team, roll-out to whole organization 5. Possible partnerships: Food delivery, Lunch provider, Restaurants from the area, Food-Waste sharing/rescue initiatives

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

Convincing workforce to actually participate, share and be open to thank openly. To overcome this known resistance against the new or change in general, we could start with more intimate formats of this initiative. E.g. 'closed' lunch circles, where team members already know each other. Also, transparent communication is key and keeping a focus on volunteering employees who are interested in the first place. These then may activate others as 'change activists' and spread the benefits.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

1. Beforehand analysis: Employee survey on readiness for 'Thanksgiving at Work' 2. Trial 2 -3 (depending on organization size) Thanksgiving lunches, combining employees and leaders who apply voluntarily 3. Gather feedback from trial teams, iterate, improve. 4. Design and develop plug-in/feature for social platform 5. Gather feedback in two-week interval, analyze user data, traffic and feedback from workforce 6. Constant feedback flows into a dedicated team.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

Would love to work with mentoring organizations who are experienced in implementing cultural change formats into organizations. My next key steps would be the following: 1. Deepen research on lunch culture in designated target group and geographical context 2. Build core team of 4-5 people to form a business and financial plan 3. Start open surveys on ideas to check readiness / prototype social platform integration 4. Start designing and developing idea, contact possible clients.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

It solves something I'm personally tired of: The antisocial lunch break in most of the bigger corporations nowadays. Instead of taking some time to interact face-to-face with each other, some prefer to eat in front of their desktop or face the dilemma of 'where should we go today?'. I find the best place to show gratitude is when you are consciously spending time with each other and learn a way to know each other better, trust and thus, giving thanks by itself.

Tell us about yourself

I’m Monika Jiang, a German-born Chinese Millennial Activist. Through concept, text and communication strategies, I'm co-creating impact and change in the world of work as part of the society as a whole. As a freshly-baked freelancer, I'm seeking opportunities to shape solutions with individuals, brands, and organizations that are making the leap towards a sustainable, human-centered future of work

Where are you / your team located?

Berlin, Germany.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Monika Jiang is an individual company.

Company / Organization Name

Monika Jiang - I'm a self-employed strategist & writer focusing on cultural shifts and the future of work.


Tell us about your experience

I have a background in media and communication and gained first work experiences in Marketing and PR in small companies, an automotive corporation, and a digital agency. In April 2016, I joined the Hamburg-based consulting agency SOULWORX where we help shift organizations' cultures in becoming more people and purpose-driven. Also, I've been responsible for the roll-out of an initiative for changing the world of work through personal stories.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Scott Colby

Hi Monika Jiang 

It's Scott from the Unplugged Gratitude Parties. We traded a couple of messages. I still love your idea. :)

I've put together Gratitude Dinners before (for friends, not work) and other thing we did was give everyone a blank thank you card. Each person wrote a handwritten note of appreciation to someone else. They were then given the option of reading the card out loud. Reading the card out loud adds another powerful dimension. We've done this at retreats, too, and there are usually some tears shed. This could be another idea for your Thanksgiving at Work idea. Looking forward to seeing how this evolves.

Oh, another idea could be that each employee/leader brings a can of food that you collect and deliver to your local food bank. That would be another way to add a social good component to your idea. You could even turn this into a challenge with a prize. For each can of food someone brings in, they get their name in the hat for the prize. So for example, if someone brings in 10 cans of food, they will get 10 entries in the drawing for a prize. This would encourage bringing in more than one can.

Just some thoughts for you!

Photo of Thomas Young

Monika Jiang , This is such a great idea.

I love the idea of creating time for people to come together, especially in contexts which don't often facilitate easily (i.e the workplace). I know my workplace would benefit from something like this. I wonder how you could modify the event so it becomes less repetitive but maintains momentum in the sharing aspect of gratitude. I agree an educational aspect could be of most use here as per Melanie Weir 's comment below; but perhaps also a philanthropic component also (in terms of volunteering or donating etc). Wishing you well in your idea moving forward

Photo of Melanie Weir

Monika, There was a group at the Open IDEO San Francisco chapter that I took part in that had a similar thought of doing a project like this with companies, hospitals, education institutions, ect... The idea was to decrease food waste by creating a zero waste meal and then to have topics that were discussed at the table that supported community and conviviality. I wonder if you can include an education component to your project that promotes sustainability of food?

Photo of Monika Jiang

Hi Melanie, thanks for sharing! Love the idea of combining an education component that promotes sustainability of food as well. I'm all for it! Thanks so much, will re-edit the description to include this valuable aspect. Happy sunday!

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Monika Jiang ,

It's great to see you in the Challenge! I'm intrigued by your Idea, Thanksgiving at work, and eager to learn more! I'm wondering what sparked this Idea? Have you seen any other workplaces integrate topical lunches focused around a theme of gratitude?

Also, reflecting on past work environments and the cultures of gratitude in those workplaces, what would be an ideal individual to connect with in a given work environment to gain momentum around this Idea?

Lastly, I encourage you to check out additional resources and research articles we've compiled for this challenge that may help provide context in the space of Gratitude for your concept.

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Monika Jiang

Hi Lauren,
good to hear back from you, thanks!
I honestly don't know what sparked this idea, I just spontaneously came up with it because I'm so passionate about food ;) and would like to enhance lunch culture in workplaces in general. So I thought, why not use the tradition of 'thanksgiving' or any other form of giving thanks for the basic need of nutrition, as a driver for gratitude. And no, haven't seen any workplaces integrate that yet, but who knows!

I guess the best way to start is to actually find an individual or even a small group of people who are passionate and aware of the importance of good food, healthy eating habits in general and how this could pair up with an open gratitude culture. Ideally, this would be someone in the management or leadership position, as I believe we need the support from actual decision makers and 'role models' as in exemplifying change.
Thanks for the additional resources, I will take a closer look at it again!
Best from Berlin,

Photo of Lauren Ito

Berlin! That's one of the next dream destinations on my travel list. I'm really interested to hear more how this program will develop. It might be helpful to consider what a storyboard for this Idea might look like.

I'm attaching a resource for you that might help spark next steps:

Really excited to see how this concept continues to evolve!

Photo of Monika Jiang

Thanks Lauren, that is very helpful. I'll definitely use the journey map method to evolve the idea. Hope you'll make it to Berlin soon (in spring or summer ;)

Photo of Giulia Tucci

Hi Monika,

I think this is a great idea! On a symbolic level, it brings together concepts as sharing, community, and entertainment in one unique event. So simple, yet so effective!

To further define the structure of the event, how about including some small games to play during the lunch? I'm thinking about initiatives as wall of gratitude to be filled with thoughts on post-its or a "gratitude piñata" to be filled (and then disrupted) all together?

These are just trivial examples.. but I think that including an additional level of entertainment could make people attending feel in an even more cheerful mood, and fostering their willingness to participate to future events.



Photo of Monika Jiang

Hi Giulia,
thanks for your positive feedback and great input! Love the idea with the gratitude pinata!! This surely would lift up everyone's mood and I agree fully on the symbolic power of sharing and entertainment in one unique event. I also thought about a post-it wall or little games during or after lunchtime to practice small but simple gestures of saying 'thank you' directly, written, through a metaphor/story or anything else that is maybe practiced in different cultures. I'd like to bring out everyone's traditions and rituals around the topic of gratitude and remix them with others to come up with new ones. So yes, totally up for an additional level of entertainment :)

All the best from Berlin! Monika

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Monika Jiang ,

Thanks for sharing your Idea to address this important topic and bringing your voice to the Challenge Community. We wanted to remind you we are hosting a Webinar and Q&A for this Challenge with University of Washington positive organizational leadership expert, Ryan Fehr Fri, Oct 13 @ 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time. He’ll be discussing recommendations for designing Ideas for this topic. This is a great resource as you continue developing your concept!

You can register for the webinar here

Hope to see you there!

Photo of Monika Jiang

Done! Looking forward to it :) Thanks!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Monika Jiang ,

Congratulations on being today's Featured Contribution!