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Connection Cards & Gratitude Stations

Make it easy for people to express appreciation, and connect with each other as human beings, in simple, tangible ways.

Photo of Anne Lafleur
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The basic idea is to encourage employees to reach out to each other in small, meaningful ways by providing business card-sized "connection cards" with messages of appreciation, encouragement and support: You are awesome. Your voice matters. You can do this. You rock. 

The messages aren't all strictly messages of gratitude, but they are all expressions of positive attention that tend to inspire spontaneous gratitude. They make people smile, and feel cared for, which primes them to notice other things at work that make them feel that way.

The cards are inexpensive, and the actual messages can be customized to fit the needs and desires of the particular environment. In fact, an important part of implementing this project is talking with different stakeholders to see what messages they would like to hear in the workplace more often, and preparing them to deliver those messages more often themselves.

The backs of the cards are blank so that people can write short messages if they choose, explaining the specific reason for the card: "Thank you so much for your extra help yesterday." "I've really appreciated the way you've been running our team meetings." "Knock their socks off tomorrow!" Etc.

I've found that putting messages like these in writing has a much bigger and longer-term impact than simply speaking them. (There are people who still have cards taped to their monitors, or in their wallets, that I gave them years ago!)

To get these cards used across an organization, it seems to me that employees need 1) to have easy access to them, and 2) to be actively encouraged to use them. 

For the easy access, I envision "gratitude stations" in office common areas that would have a bunch of connection cards and pens, envelopes and stamps (for sending cards to people in other locations), and maybe even candy or other small gifts that could be attached to the cards. In addition to providing materials, seeing these stations could help people remember who they would like to reach out to, and prompt them to do so.

I could also envision providing a way for individuals to order their own sets of cards, if they have many opportunities to give them to people and/or don't have easy access to a gratitude station.

Active encouragement is important because offering personal messages like these can feel weird and make people feel vulnerable, especially when few other people are doing it. Employees need to see why it would be worth their time and the emotional risk of trying something new. Ideally, the organizational leaders would go first, experimenting with connection cards themselves and publicly sharing their experiences, leading by example.

I would strongly advise against any kind of external incentives or rewards for participating, because its the voluntary nature of the giving that makes it so special and meaningful. Not to mention, cards are simply not everyone's "thing". Let people participate for whom it feels good, and if other people are inspired to encourage and thank people in different ways that feel more authentic to them, that's great! Because ultimately, the goal isn't a lot of pieces of paper being passed back and forth, but a workplace environment in which people authentically trust, support, and appreciate each other.

Idea Title

Messages that Matter: Small Cards, Big Impact

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

People crave positive human connection: not just appreciation, but also, at different times, encouragement, support, affirmation and celebration. Connection cards make it easier for people to offer those kinds of gifts to each other, and more likely that they will do so - especially when reinforced by leaders' words and actions. When people experience how good it feels to receive a card, they are more likely to try giving one. And once they experience how good it feels to make someone else's day, they will likely want to do it again. But really, the cards are just the beginning. My hope is that they would inspire people to connect over time in even more creative, unique, and meaningful ways.

Who are you innovating for?

Business leaders and HR professionals, who know that positive workplace relationships contribute to job performance, employee retention, and customer service, and decrease absenteeism and employee relations complaints. Managers, who want their employees to trust each other and work well together. Employees in ANY role who want to enjoy the environment in which they work, and be able to contribute to the well-being of their co-workers.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

Connection cards -- and gratitude stations, in particular -- are easier to use when employees are co-located and can leave cards on each other's desks, or drop them into inter-office mail. But there are ways to include remote workers as well, in both the sending and receiving of cards -- which could be important given how hard it is to build relationships from a distance. I think this concept could be used in any industry, or size of business, in part because the messages are so customizable

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

1. Find early adopters who "get" the value of connection cards and can easily think of opportunities to use them. Get them together, introduce the idea, and have them brainstorm messages THEY would like to offer people, and receive themselves. 2. Give each of them a set of cards with those messages, to give away as they are inspired to do so, ESPECIALLY to leaders who don't yet "get" how good it feels. 3. After a few weeks, compare notes, collect stories, and reinforce how what a difference these small gestures can make. 4. Brainstorm ideas for what to do next to spread the practice even further. (Could include gratitude stations, workshops/trainings, internal news articles, etc.)

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

For something like this to spread, it is important for leaders use the cards themselves, speak explicitly about the importance of human connection, and celebrate the ways in which people support and appreciate each other. Without that, there's a mixed message sent, and it will feel too risky for most employees to participate. Also of note: not everyone is a "card person" and that's okay. If even a small % of employees spread these messages, I believe it can change the whole culture

How will you test and prototype your solution?

I've been prototyping and experimenting with connection cards for a few years now, and have given away over 1,000 of them. Acupuncturists and massage therapists have "Take what you need" displays in their offices, and two schools recently placed huge orders of custom cards for their staff and students. I have collected amazing stories and testimonials, but what I need next is a longer-term study of the impact of these cards and practices on organizational culture and business outcomes.

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

Getting an implementation grant would be a huge step forward because it would help connect me to people who actively want to experiment with this in their organizations. Working with GGSC would be amazing. They could help refine and spread this approach much faster and better that I could on my own, and help me research its impact.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

I created my first connection cards back in 2013 when I worked in the HR department at MIT and was trying to brainstorm small gifts that people might enjoy giving and receiving. My boss at the time suggested little cards that said "Reminder: You are awesome." I printed a bunch that day and gave them out to colleagues, and it felt great! I've been developing the idea ever since.

Tell us about yourself

My degrees are in psychology, religious studies, and social work, and I worked in HR at MIT for 13 years before leaving to spend more time with my kids. Over the past several years, I've been blogging and leading workshops and discussions about happiness and human connection, and in general just trying to help people love each other better, at home, at work, and in society as a whole.

Where are you / your team located?

Massachusetts, USA

Company / Organization Name



Join the conversation:

Photo of Alex O'Neal

I love this! On its own, or integrated into a larger plan, this is a great approach. Something tangible to see and touch that makes you feel appreciated is always good; great for everyday support, and crucial for those "burnout" moments when you wonder why you do what you do. Love the clean, colorful design, too.

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