In 1999, Cheryle Johnson lost her son, Charles, to suicide. After taking time off to cope with the shock, she returned to work a month later, but still had a tough time adjusting to her day-to-day responsibilities.
What got her through was the help and support of her coworkers, both personally and professionally.
"It was small and simple acts - a hug, a smile or a cup of coffee," said Johnson, a staff specialist at the Duke Clinical Research Unit. "But there were also days when I couldn't concentrate and coworkers would come over and ask 'what can I help you with today?' "
Those little acts of kindness helped Johnson deal with her loss and get back into the swing of things at the office.
However, that kind of encouragement doesn't have to only come in times of need. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the top reason employees leave a job is because they don't feel appreciated.
Show your colleagues you care with these five tips to boost morale and camaraderie:
1. Add a personal touch
After Johnson received support from her coworkers to get through the death of her son, she decided it was important for her to pay it forward. She personally tries to improve morale among colleagues by greeting everyone each morning.
"Duke really fosters teamwork as a mission statement and we forget that we may spend more time with the people we work with than our own family each week," Johnson said. "You never know what each person is going through or even endured before driving to work, so a hug or kind word can go a long way."
2. Be vulnerable
Julie Ingram, a counselor with Duke's Personal Assistance Service, said an important step to encouraging coworkers and creating a positive work environment starts with not being afraid to show feelings and be honest with what you appreciate about others.
"Showing appreciation and gratitude isn't always easy, but it endears you to people because they see you're willing to be vulnerable," Ingram said.
3. Be tactful
Part of creating an open dialogue through encouragement also means staying positive, Ingram said, even if constructive criticism is necessary. She noted that if a colleague needs to correct a problem or mistake, make sure to also remind him or her of the good work they do.
4. Create group activities
"Basic things can make a huge difference," Ingram said. "In our office, we celebrate birthdays with a cake and card signed by everyone. It makes each of us feel special and a celebration of who you are."
Ingram added that group outings or monthly get-togethers not only helps to foster teamwork, but can also better allow coworkers to be honest and vulnerable with each other, which leads to stronger encouragement and a better work environment.
5. Create a positive work environment of your own
By surrounding yourself with positivity, Ingram said Duke faculty and staff are likely to pass that feeling along. She said that could include photos of family or meaningful quotes.
"It's a reminder that your life is bigger than your job," Ingram said.
Johnson takes that to heart. She said that focusing on the good around her and recognizing the importance of coworkers can go a long way.
"If you can be kind to people, that's something that helps others get through the day," Johnson said. "Kindness is all it takes."
For more tips on workplace encouragement and how to help with a variety of concerns, visit Duke's Personal Assistance Service website.