3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace

Have you ever worked a job where you rarely, if ever, felt appreciated or were personally thanked for the work you performed? Unfortunately, you are probably not alone. Expression of gratitude in the workplace has many benefits.

Thanking the people we work with is something we all can do, whether you have a boss or are the boss. Expressing gratitude and appreciation is free, does not require a significant time investment, and the many benefits of gratitude are backed up by scientific research.

What is gratitude? Gratitude is the quality of being thankful. Gratitude involves having appreciation for what an individual receives, whether it is tangible or intangible. Researchers describe gratitude as “an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act.”

In the workplace, leaders might send a message of, “you should be grateful you have this job!” instead of, “I am grateful for your hard work.” This message is not typically received well by employees, who, instead of feeling grateful for having a job, think their boss should be grateful they are willing to come to work in the first place.

Both parties tend to think about how unappreciated they are, which leads to neither the boss nor the employee wanting to express a little gratitude first.

According to a survey conducted by the John Templeton Foundation, work is the last place Americans are likely to express or feel gratitude. When survey respondents were asked how grateful they were for a variety of things, “your current job” tended to rank dead last. 70% of respondents would feel better about themselves if their boss were more grateful and 81% said they would work harder. Even though employees are eager to have a boss who expresses gratitude to them, 74% never or rarely express gratitude to their bosses. Both parties tend to think about how unappreciated they are, which leads to neither the boss nor the employee wanting to express a little gratitude first.

If leaders want to improve workplace engagement, their first step should be expressing genuine gratitude toward their employees. Why?

Below, I describe three reasons leaders should take the first step in implementing gratitude as a part of organizational culture.

increase productivityGratitude increases productivity.

Researchers examined how gratitude in the workplace affects productivity. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, described how employees working as university fundraisers were used to explore how perceptions about our feelings of being valued at work (in this case, by managers) impacts behavior on the job. Why fundraisers? Fundraising is often considered a thankless job, which may trigger rude feedback and regular rejections. The control group of fundraisers did not receive any intervention. They showed up to work and began making fundraising phone calls.

The experimental group received a “thank you” from a director of annual giving before heading to work. This experiment showed when managers expressed appreciation for the employees’ work, productivity went up significantly. The group of fundraisers who received the pre-work “thank you” made 50% more fundraising calls than their peers who were not thanked.

happy at work

Gratitude increases job satisfaction.

A study from the University of Melbourne in Australia found gratitude was linked to job satisfaction. When employees feel appreciated, they may begin to show/feel appreciation for what they have (their job, etc.), and they are more likely to be happy and feel satisfied with their jobs. The study suggests organizations aiming to increase job satisfaction among employees can do so by incorporating gratitude into workplace culture.

psychologically safe at workGratitude may increase feelings of psychological safety.

The Harvard Business Review described a massive two-year study by Google. The results of the study linked psychological safety to high team performance. What is psychological safety? Believing one won’t be punished when one makes a mistake; feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of team members. How is psychological safety related to gratitude? A study in the Journal of Research in Personality revealed those who experience gratitude are more resilient. Increased resilience helps individuals better manage stress and experience fewer negative or toxic emotions like resentment and envy. According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of Kentucky, individuals who show gratitude experience less aggression, a decreased desire to seek revenge, and an increase in sensitivity and empathy toward other people.

connecting the dots1

Connecting the Dots

If workplace culture is to change, buy-in and modeling from leadership is a must. Employees will look to their superiors first. Feeling appreciated by those in leadership positions will help create a culture of thankfulness at all levels. Lack of appreciation from the top trickles down, and is revealed in different ways (e.g. lack of appreciation of coworkers, decrease in workplace morale, and higher staff turnover).

Gratitude is a basic building block for engagement from all parties in an organization, and it can be easily integrated into workplace culture. Gratitude is something we can all express. From a leadership or management perspective, gratitude does not cost anything than maybe a few seconds of your time, and it can help improve workplace happiness, morale, and engagement.

How can you begin to improve workplace engagement with gratitude? A simple, genuine thank-you is a great place to start.

  • Be specific. An organization might provide generic and impersonal “thank yous” (e.g. a mug, given to everyone during the holidays, with “thank you” printed on the side) which do not come off as heartfelt. When thanking someone, be specific. “Thanks for your help,” feels less genuine than, “Emily, thank you for your help on the design project this weekend.”
  • Tailor your thank you to the person. Some people do not like public recognition – in these cases, an email or handwritten note to show your appreciation may be enough. Others may want more public recognition, such as a thank you during a meeting.
  • Be consistent. Consistently thanking and appreciating people for the work they do will help build positive relationships, and make them feel valued. Your employees will become more engaged, which will build trust and appreciation into your workplace culture, making you a more effective leader.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your personal expression of gratitude, or the expression of gratitude in your workplace, review my services here and contact me here.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn on October 11th, 2017. See the full post here.