December 08, 2022

Practicing gratitude in the workplace

One of the first lessons we teach young children is how to say “thank you.” It then becomes ingrained in our collective consciousness from a very young age, both by repetition and societal norms. And yet, as we grow and enter the professional workplace, practicing this very basic skill can fall by the wayside due to daily stress, increasing workloads, and even a lack of gratitude being modeled by leaders. In fact, a survey of 2,000 Americans showed that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else. 

It’s not that people don’t think that expressing gratitude is beneficial; 93% felt that grateful bosses are more likely to succeed, and that hearing “thank you” helped motivate them. The irony, though, is that only 10% of the same respondents reported actively SAYING thank you on a daily basis. Somehow, we exist in a society where we highly value, but under-express, gratitude in the workplace.

Let’s change this. Outside of the universal desire to feel valued and appreciated, there are tangible benefits of expressing gratitude, both professionally and personally. 

The Multi-Fold Benefit of Gratitude

Let’s start with the basics: the cost-benefit ratio of expressing gratitude in the workplace is on your side. It doesn’t cost a dime, but according to studies run by psychologists Adam Grant & Francesca Gino, hearing “thank you” from a supervisor provided people with a strong sense of self-worth and self-efficacy. Further, the expression of gratitude has a  “spillover effect”, where they become more trusting of each other and more likely to help out. 

Gratitude also helps foster engagement & employee retention. A recent study by the American Psychological Association reported that 93% of employees who felt valued were motivated to do their best work. Only 21% of that same group said they planned to look for a new job in the next year. 

This extends beyond just individual performance, as shown in this recent Inc. article. “The benefits of [leaders expressing gratitude] are twofold, improving day-to-day morale and driving organizational success.” When employees feel happier at work, nearly 50% say they care more about their work, 73% say they are better collaborators and 85% say they take more initiative. 

And as we know, the professional often carries over to the personal. Besides an active gratitude practice shown to improve physical and psychological health, this Forbes article reports that gratitude in the workplace also leads to “significantly increased happiness, greater satisfaction with life, and higher resilience to stress [… and even] fewer headaches and illnesses.”

Putting it into practice

Now that we know the “why”, let’s dive into the “how”. The easiest place to start is with yourself. Modeling the behavior you want to see amongst your peers and managers is as easy as noticing the small things, then vocalizing it. Notice your coworker going above and beyond? Mention it in a team meeting by sharing the observation and then including how it helped [you / your team / the project]. 

A couple of other tips to make your gratitude practice second nature include:

  • For Managers: Maximize their motivation. When working with an employee (new or otherwise), learn how they like to be recognized. Some people are embarrassed by being praised in public, whereas others thrive from it. Keeping their preferences in a private document can help.
  • For Employees: Thank your mentors. Don’t assume that your supervisor is getting praise from THEIR superiors. A handwritten thank you note shows that you appreciate their guidance and mentorship. This extends beyond your direct manager and could be another company leader or coworker. 
  • For Both: Kudos of the Month. The first month this is put into play, the manager recognizes an employee who has gone the extra mile or could benefit from a little support. A small token of appreciation – a silly trophy! A cheezy plaque! – is given to the recipient. THEN, it’s their turn for the next month. They choose and recognize the next winner & the award gets passed on. 

Net-net: everyone not just wants, but needs, to feel valued. And by practicing your gratitude at work, you’re more likely to reap the benefits in all parts of your life.

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