December 22, 2021

Overcoming Pandemic Fatigue: How Our Team Used Gratitude to Reenergize and Inspire

Elise Harlow, VP of ELA Operations

In October, as the days became darker and team endurance appeared to be splintering after so many pandemic months, we brainstormed a leader appreciation initiative that could simply remind employees that they are not going through this alone. Our company core values hold that we are a community, yet over the past year each of our nine states had been impacted differently by the pandemic. At times, it felt like we were at different stages of the pandemic altogether. To reunite our team with our mission and one another, we decided that November would be Gratitude Month at Early Learning Academies.

Gratitude in Action

The concept was simple: each day of Gratitude Month one team member would write an email response to our gratitude bingo. These emails would go to over 120 leaders across the company. We also started a Yammer board to help our team feel more like a community. There was a competition for center directors to complete their own gratitude bingo with our teachers. Every location was asked to make a gratitude tree hallway display full of messages of thanks.

 While our intent was to reconnect gently and offer a little warmth across the company, our gratitude campaign quickly evolved into something we didn’t anticipate. While the prompts elicit a thoughtful response, such as “be open to receiving forgiveness,” the daily gratitude day authors went far beyond sharing a list of what they are grateful for. One author wrote about how he was coping with his parents selling his childhood home. A usually reserved team member shared about reconnecting with an estranged family member. Several entries included missing parents who have passed away during the holiday season. The prompt “make an effort to connect with my coworkers” led to a thoughtful response about how it can be difficult to build relationships working remotely. These were only several of many moving messages.

Overwhelming Results

The heartfelt gratitude daily emails were met with a tide of equally kind and vulnerable responses. Leaders all over the country responded with their own experiences of being helped by strangers, becoming a newly empty-nesting parent, and what it was like to immigrate to the United States. The email chain was the most endearing of runaway trains—as many as 20 reply-all responses in one day—but that was a great problem to have. The message of gratitude was resonating with the team. The human peeked out from behind the professional.

The month began with an over exhaustion and a question as to how we would make it through the holidays; it ended feeling truly grateful for the courage and endurance of this team.

A glimpse of what our coworkers were going through outside of work reminded us that our community exists to help one another through the tough times. We read examples of how our team members have overcome tremendous obstacles and we became grateful to know them. We were touched by responses of “I’m going through that right now, too.” There was no training given on sharing personal reflections with over one hundred people. Yet each message was a beautiful example of why this team will continue to grow beyond this wildly triumphant Gratitude Month.

Happy holidays and may the spirit of gratitude be with you and your community!