The ‘smile files’ cheering up gloomy workers

Records of achievements and praise can boost staff morale

About 20 years ago Emma Ewing, a trainer and public relations consultant, created an email folder called “nice things” to which she would add messages of thanks from clients or colleagues. Later, she included praise for her team too.

On grey mornings, she sometimes opens it and scrolls through years’ worth of compliments.

“They show how my work and impact has changed over time and they remind me of all the great people I’ve worked with,” she says. “That kind of reminder can really lift your day and get you back on track.”

In a work culture that often prizes busyness, it is tempting to move on to the next problem immediately after achieving something. But Ewing says that focusing only on fresh challenges – and the difficulties they involve – can sap confidence and motivation. “You can get into a trap of looking forward and forgetting all the things you’ve learned along the way.”


For anyone looking for a boost in the new year, a record of achievements in an electronic folder, Slack channel or physical file, may be the solution. Sometimes called a “smile file”, or “kudos folder”, it is a place to store compliments. It may provide good cheer in a career slump. In Slack’s State of Work in 2023 survey of 18,000 workers globally, 82 per cent say feeling happy and engaged is a key driver of their productivity.

When starting a smile file, Ewing recommends getting over the feeling that it is “silly or self-indulgent”. It can help team cohesion. “We tend to feel grateful when we reread these messages of appreciation and this, in turn, strengthens our relationships with the people we work with.”

Culture Amp, an employee-experience company, has a Slack channel #all-camper_yays, which encourages staff to create posts sending “props” – expressions of appreciation – to co-workers.

Tembo, the digital mortgage broker, has a Slack channel that shares online reviews from customers, as well as emailed thanks.

“If you’re running a business, it’s often about numbers and revenues,” Richard Dana, founder and chief executive, says. The Slack channel brings to light human stories of the experience of buying a home. “It’s uplifting for the team to see the positive feedback. It’s a feelgood channel. It’s a vanity thing. It’s to motivate people. I look at it all the time – running a business is really hard.” Out of about 500 reviews this year, there are possibly six negative ones.

Some managers also keep files for members of staff, providing evidence for career appraisals. Leah Montano, a development professional in the healthcare sector, collects all positive correspondence she receives about her team’s work so she can “call out any notable wins”. It can provide a record of a job well done to make a case for a pay rise or promotion, or for adding detail when staff are updating their CV or LinkedIn profiles.

For Ewing, the file has become more important as her career has progressed. “It’s a sad truth that the more senior you get, the less you tend to receive useful or meaningful feedback. You’re trusted to do the job so external feedback and validation beyond, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing’ can be a rare gift. We all need a bit of external validation in our lives and this is a way of refuelling your confidence quickly.”

Havilah Clarke, head of marketing at Huntsman Mental Health Foundation, agrees. Her smile file helps “when I have to combat impostor syndrome, or when I’m navigating a challenging situation at work and need a confidence boost”.

It can also help professionals fine-tune their performance. “It can be good practice to look at this file once a month as part of your self-evaluation at work,” says Ewing. “It will help you focus on the contribution you’ve made and how other people valued it, which in turn will help you to fine-tune what you deliver in the next month.”

Rachel Hernandez, a behavioural analyst, says that as her own career evolved, her “own success was not where I found all my joy but rather helping others. The things that started to make me feel good were ... getting to share that moment and celebrate with them”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024