Growing with Gratitude: Inside HAI Group's Inspiring Gratitude Tree Project

Samantha Thomas and Ed Malaspina stand in front of HAI Group's Gratitude Tree

In early December, Ed Malaspina, president and CEO of HAI Group, discovered a surprising sight in the Redding room, a spacious gathering area within the company's Cheshire, Connecticut office. Unlike the dormant and barren trees outside, a tree adorned the room's south wall, growing day by day, leaf by leaf.

Each leaf carried a handwritten expression of gratitude, ranging from a few sentences to just a few words. Sentiments included:MicrosoftTeams-image (453)

Peace and safety in troubled times.

Gratitude for family, friends, work team, health, and even a pet bunny named Alvin.

Acknowledgment of windows of opportunity.

Appreciation for a warm home, reliable care, a strong immune system, and endless opportunities.

Thankfulness for second chances.

Recognition of the importance of health, family, friends, and coffee.

Lessons learned.

Gratitude for a new apartment (home).

Reading through these displays, Malaspina said he felt a reflection of the vibrant culture cultivated at HAI Group—one that recognizes the power of gratitude in fostering strong relationships, promoting teamwork, and creating an atmosphere where everyone feels valued.

"Given the timing around the holidays, it was just so fitting," Malaspina said of the display.

Malaspina inquired and learned that the tree had a name—the HAI Group Gratitude Tree. Samantha Thomas, an associate HR analyst at HAI Group, led the project and offered to meet with Malaspina at the tree to explain the underlying emphasis.

MicrosoftTeams-image (456)"The Gratitude Tree is much more than a holiday office decoration," Thomas explained. "It embodies the spirit of our organization, where every leaf represents a heartfelt expression of thanks."

She said that expressing and receiving gratitude fosters a sense of unity and teamwork, contributing to a collaborative and supportive atmosphere.

Thomas read a few of the messages that stood out to her as Malaspina looked on.

Malaspina focused on a leaf with a longer message, drawn in by its clean handwriting. It just so happened that the leaf and its message came from Thomas. It read:

Even when things don't go the way I want them to, I'm grateful life is always redirecting me to something better. I'm grateful for my health, my children, my children's health, my career, my home, and all abundance.

Thomas said the idea for the Gratitude Tree came to her after a mental health awareness presentation to HAI Group employees in November.

"Trying to keep a positive mindset and show gratefulness is something I work on daily through my morning affirmations," Thomas said. "I thought the Gratitude Tree would be a great way for everyone to incorporate positivity into their lives, especially during the holiday season."

She ordered materials for the tree that same day, and by the following day, it had already started growing with gratitude.

Malaspina said he's thrilled with the Gratitude Tree and the meaningful touch it brings during the holiday season.

"I'm equally impressed by the initiative Samantha showed in bringing this idea to life," he said. "At HAI Group, we value and encourage employee-driven initiatives. It's the spirit of innovation and collaboration that defines our workplace."

Before joining HAI Group two years ago, Thomas worked as a supervisor in a different industry. Thomas said that before the pandemic, the company had a thriving in-office culture, similar to HAI Group. During the pandemic, her role shifted permanently to remote. Thomas said she missed in-person interaction after several years of working from home.

While listening to the radio, she heard about HAI Group and was immediately interested in becoming part of the company's culture. She didn't have an insurance background, but she took a chance and contacted HAI Group's Human Resources Department to inquire about openings.

Malaspina, who studied engineering in college, often admits he never thought he would end up working for an insurance company. He said it's a misnomer that an insurance background is necessary to work at HAI Group.

"As long as you have the personal drive to learn and grow, you'll find a way to fit in here," he said.

Samantha Thomas pointing at the Gratitude Tree as Ed Malaspina looks on. HAI Group President and CEO Ed Malaspina, on the left, attentively listens as Samantha Thomas from HAI Group's Human Resources Department explains the concept behind HAI Group's Gratitude Tree, a project she created to help employees practice thankfulness and positivity. 

Thomas did just that. After six months of interacting with a human resource staff member, she found an opportunity with HAI Group's Underwriting Department.

"I had no underwriting or insurance background, but I had a willingness and initiative to learn, and I applied transferrable skills to the department," Thomas said.

Recently, Thomas transferred to a position within HAI Group's Human Resources Department, bringing her career journey with HAI Group full circle.

In her tenure at HAI Group, Thomas said she's learned that family isn't a word that's thrown around lightly at the office.

"It's not just an empty phrase here; we believe in fostering a sense of belonging, support, and gratitude that extends beyond the workplace," Thomas said. "Our company culture is like a tightly knit family, where every member is valued and appreciated."

Looking ahead to the future of the Gratitude Tree, Thomas is brainstorming ways to nurture and grow the idea, fostering even more expressions of thanks and positivity within the HAI Group community.

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