Updated: Jan 13
From modern tech startups to established organizations like Campbell (whose former CEO handwrote 30,000 ‘Thank You’ notes to his employees), leaders are making it a priority to cultivate a culture of gratitude in the workplace (1).
While showing appreciation to colleagues might feel awkward, the potential benefits of saying “thank you” to both your boss and your intern mustn't be overlooked. Research on gratitude has exploded over the past two decades. And evidence highlights a myriad of benefits including better performance, improved health, and deeper connections (2,3,4).
Let’s take a deeper look at how gratitude can enhance organizational culture and employee wellbeing. As well as figure out innovative ways to encourage the practice.
The Benefits of Gratitude at Work
A survey by the John Templeton Foundation showed that the workplace is where people express and receive gratitude the least (5). This isn’t shocking news. Most people do rank their jobs dead last in their list of things to be grateful for.
The irony is that people do crave appreciation at work. Participants of the same survey reported that receiving a “thank you” at work made them more motivated. And that 93% agreed that grateful bosses are more likely to succeed.
Clearly, people want and need to be appreciated. And here are a couple of scientifically proven benefits organizations achieve by building a culture of gratitude.
1) Boosts employee engagement
It may seem unprofessional, or sycophantic, to bring gratitude into the workplace. But when done sincerely, there’s a strong correlation between gratitude and employee engagement.
A study by the American Psychological Association found that 93% of employees who reported feeling valued were motivated to do their best at work (6). Among that group, only 21% considered switching jobs in the coming year. This shows that when people are appreciated for their contributions, they feel more engaged and are less likely to dread their day job.
2) Enhances team connections
Showing gratitude in the workplace also directly impacts organizational synergy, driving long-term success.
Sincere and regular acts of appreciation help employees become more trusting with each other. This is known as a positive Spillover Effect, which is the tendency of one person's emotion to affect how other people around them feel. Ultimately, cultivating a culture of gratitude creates more empathetic and compassionate workplaces for people to thrive.
3) Fosters self-worth and confidence
Expressing appreciation helps employees feel assured that their work makes a difference, giving them a confidence boost.
Psychologists Adam Grant and Francesca Gino ran a series of four experiments and found that “thank you” from a supervisor boosts both self-worth and self-efficacy (2). On top of that, helping employees feel empowered for their good work strengthens their drive to improve further.
4) Builds resilience to stress
Expressing gratitude encourages the brain’s release of dopamine and serotonin, the two hormones responsible for regulating our emotions. By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we strengthen these neural pathways.
Ultimately, we nurture emotional resilience that builds our ability to combat stress. A study showed that people who practice gratitude for at least two weeks displayed significantly greater satisfaction with life and higher resilience to stress (8). These subjects even reported fewer headaches and illnesses.
How Do We Cultivate Gratitude at Work?
Gratitude initiatives should be more than one-off pizza parties and a thoughtless token nod. True gratitude means being inclusive and compassionate in moments of success and crisis. So, let’s dive into how leaders and employees play a pivotal role in cultivating a more appreciative and engaging culture.
1) Appreciation begins from the top
Expressing thanks to colleagues might feel strange or even at odds with some workplace cultures. Therefore, those in power need to spearhead practices that will positively influence their employees.
This could be as simple as giving an encouraging greeting each morning. Or it might be providing appreciative feedback or incentives in performance reviews. Regardless, supervisors and managers need to consistently and authentically say “thank you” in both public and private settings. Only then will we be able to see an uptick in morale and engagement.
2) Acknowledge the person, not just their effort
Don’t limit appreciation to organizational tasks, goals, and objectives. People deserve more being reduced to a ‘job well done’.
Instead, we should also celebrate traits that make people human, not just work-producing robots. Perhaps Sam is a good listener and confidant when times are challenging. Maybe Tom has been a great conversationalist who brightens the office mood. Doing so brings authenticity and humility back to an organization.
3) Provide tokens of appreciation
Research shows that rewards and incentives at work have an important effect on working relationships (9). Forcing people to be grateful will backfire when their work conditions are poor.
The Templeton Survey mentioned earlier also hints at one of the factors that undermine gratitude at work: pay imbalances. Therefore, providing incentives like raises and bonuses is another way to express gratitude.
Non-monetary benefits are beneficial too. Perks such as flexible work arrangements or work-from-home tools show employees that their wellbeing is considered. It’s all about being thoughtful about your team’s health and happiness.
4) Use setbacks as opportunities for gratitude
Instead of using blame to approach a workplace crisis, use the situation to gain new insights.
Psychologist Robert Emmons explains how gratitude is like the psychological immune system that protects us in tough situations (10). When we approach change, conflict, and failure with gratitude, we transform obstacles into opportunities.
Here are a few prompts teams can use to facilitate communication and forgiveness in times of crisis:
What lessons can this experience teach us?
How can we find ways to be thankful for what happened to us now?
Are there ways we have become a better workplace because of it?
While gratitude has the potential to improve organizational productivity, it shouldn’t be the main reason why we practice it. Rather, it’s about creating a warm, inviting, and safe workplace, where people’s efforts are consistently valued. It’s about respecting the deepest and most basic human need to feel appreciated.
And when employees feel respected and reinvigorated, we create a healthier and more sustainable environment for people to thrive both professionally and personally.
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