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Tokens of Appreciation

Many of the research insights from phase 1 of the challenge indicate that giving/receiving gratitude is infectious. Why not leverage this?

Photo of Daniel Wexler
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Implement a “pay it forward” system of gratitude in the workplace! For example, distribute several gratitude “tokens” amongst coworkers, with clear instructions that these “tokens” are to be paid forward, in person, 24 hours (or within some time-frame) after they have been received. On these tokens, there should be a space to indicate, specifically, for what reason someone deserves the “token.” One’s reason for giving can be anything from “Thanks Alice for cleaning the conference room after today’s meeting” to “Jerome, your Christmas sweater brightened my day today.” This system of paying gratitude forward can be expressed across different managerial levels, from the highest executive to the newest, most inexperienced team members.

This solution addresses a few key points that can be overlooking when expressing gratitude at work. Firstly, gratitude in the workplace should not be specifically reserved for tangible tasks that people complete. Appreciating someone for the positive energy they contribute, or for cheering you up during a rough morning is just as important as congratulating someone on completing a big project. Acknowledging these "intangibles" provides a way to establish a more intimate workplace setting; one in which people are valued for the work they contribute and for their character. Secondly, gratitude should not be over-expressed, as it loses meaning when it’s excessive. Having a limited number of “tokens” in circulation means when you receive one, it is meaningful (however, you also want to have enough in circulation so that people have plenty of opportunities to receive one). Thirdly, expressions of gratitude should be very specific, as it makes the gesture more significant. Therefore, including a space for a personal message makes the “token” mean more. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a pay it forward system such as this provides a tangible element to “gratitude.”  The process of physically handing this “token of appreciation” to another individual makes the experience more personal, more real, and more meaningful.

Idea Title

Pass It On!

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

Inherently, people like to both give and receive. Giving makes us feel good, and receiving makes us feel appreciated. In many workplace cultures, at least in the United States, I don't think there is a need to incite feelings of gratitude, but rather we need to enable expression. Helping people acknowledge the things they appreciate about their coworkers while also providing an easy means of expression is, I believe, the solution for which we're searching. A big project isn't due every day, thus, setting a 24 hour limit on passing on a "token of appreciation" facilitates looking deeper into the everyday – what has a coworker done in the last 24 hours to make your life easier/make you smile?

Who are you innovating for?

Anyone should be able to benefit from from "paying it forward." Everyone is equally capable of doing something to brighten a coworker's day, and thus there are no restrictions on who can receive a "token." Tokens can be passed through an organization from the bottom-up or from the top down.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

My own workplace experience is limited to small offices and the non-profit sector, but I don't immediately see any reason why paying it forward can not be implemented into larger offices, retail positions, the food/service industry, etc.. The number of tokens in circulation can be altered, depending on the size of an organization and the meaning behind each token is personalized, so it should be accessible an individual in any position, in any type of workplace.

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

I imagine the easiest way to implement this system would be in an all-hands meeting at some point, so that the "pay it forward" program can be explained in full. Most importantly, everyone in the workplace must be on board with the "pay it forward" concept and must be willing to take it seriously, while also having fun with it. Additionally, it must be clearly emphasized that the "tokens" can be used to appreciate anything that a coworker has done to make a positive impact.

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

Companies with employees that collaborate from different offices/work remotely pose a problem, as you lose the action of handing someone a "token" but it doesn't entirely completely negate the positive effects of the system. Massive companies, in which most employees don't know each other or don't interact with one another, also offer a challenge. However, thinking of different departments like independent organizations and distributing tokens throughout the department may still be effective.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

I am not currently working at an organization full time but I think running trials with a number of organizations (of varying sizes and natures) near my university could be an interesting way to monitor this system. Observing how paying gratitude forward in a non-theoretical setting may reveal intricacies/complications that weren't considered in my ideation. This could indicate where there's room for improvement with this system.

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

If I receive an implementation grant I would research organizations in my area and reach out to a wide variety, in the hopes that they would agree to participate in a trial. I would also look to formalize a step-by-step implementation procedure for the companies and also determine the most useful measurements to use when evaluating the program's efficacy.

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

A discussion about the OpenIDEO challenge with 3 of my classmates followed by self reflection.

Tell us about yourself

I am a senior at the University of Michigan studying Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience.

Where are you / your team located?

Ann Arbor, Michigan


Join the conversation:

Photo of Alyssa Newton

Hi Daniel,

Great idea! I think this is a tangible way for employees to gauge their gratitude in the corporation. To address your concern for employees who work remotely or in different offices, would it be possible to expand your idea to be a 'virtual token' on the corporate website? Employees could access their tokens in the same area of the company site where they find their benefits, courses, goals, etc.


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