Showing Gratitude at Work

Five Research-backed Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work

Generally, in Nepal, we seldom say “thank you”. We rarely thank our parents, our teachers, our friends – the people without who our lives would be miserable. And it is no different at work. Showing gratitude at work is even rarer.

“Thank you” doesn’t cost a dime, and yet it has measurably beneficial effects. From a series of experiments conducted by psychologists Adam Grant and Francesca Gino, it was found that “thank you” from a supervisor gave people a strong sense of both self-worth and self-efficacy. The Grant and Gino study also reveals that the expression of gratitude has a spillover effect: Individuals become more trusting with each other, and more likely to help each other out.

The benefits of gratitude at work go beyond a sense of self-worth, self-efficacy, and trust between employees. When Greater Good Science Center Science Director Emiliana Simon-Thomas analyzed data from an interactive gratitude journal of, she found the greater the number of gratitude experiences people had on a given day, the better they felt. People who kept at it for at least two weeks showed significantly increased happiness, greater satisfaction with life, and higher resilience to stress; this group even reported fewer headaches and illnesses.

Building a culture of gratitude at work is not easy, but the science says it’s worth it. So here are five research-tested tips for fostering gratitude on the job.

Start from the top

Micro PraiseThis is one of the clearest takeaways from research into workplace gratitude: Employees need to hear “thank you” from the boss first. That’s because expressing gratitude can make some people feel unsafe, particularly in a workplace with a history of ingratitude. It’s up to the people with power to clearly, consistently, and authentically say “thank you” in both public and private settings.

Thank the people who never get thanked

Every organization has a class of employee that hogs all the glory. In hospitals, it’s doctors. At universities, it’s faculty. And every organization has high-profile individuals. But what about those who cut the checks, submit the invoices, mop the floors, and write the copy?

Thanking those who do thankless work is crucial because it sets the bar and establishes the tone. Yes, faculty do the research and teaching core to a university’s mission, but without a cadre of staff behind them, they’d have to raise money for their own salaries and empty their own wastebaskets. Public appreciation of, for example, administration and physical plant staff makes their contributions visible and thus broadens everyone’s understanding of how the organization functions—and needless to say, it improves morale and increases trust.

Aim for quality, not quantity

Forcing people to be grateful doesn’t work. It feeds the power imbalances that undermine gratitude in the first place, and it can make expressions of gratitude feel inauthentic.

The key is to create times and spaces that foster the voluntary, spontaneous expression of gratitude. It’s also the case that studies consistently show that there is such a thing as too much gratitude—it seems trying to be grateful every day induces gratitude fatigue.

How do you convey authenticity? Details are decisive. When you are specific about the benefits of a person, action, or thing, it increases your own appreciation—and it tells a person that you are paying attention, rather than just going through the motions.

Provide many opportunities for gratitude at work

When people are thanked for their work, they are more likely to increase their helping behavior and to provide help to others. But not everyone likes to be thanked—or likes to say “thank you”—in public. They may be shy or genuinely modest.

The key is to create many different kinds of opportunities for gratitude.

For example, research consistently finds that keeping a gratitude journal makes you twenty-five percent happier. Can an office keep a journal? Of course!

Gift-giving is another way to foster gratitude. Research shows that giving gifts may have an important effect on working relationships and reciprocity—and non-monetary gifts are the most beneficial of all.

Giving creates gratitude, but giving can also be a good way to express gratitude, especially if the person in question is shy. You can say “thanks” by taking on scut work, lending a parking space, or giving a day off. These kinds of non-monetary gifts can lead to more trust in working relationships, if it’s reciprocal, sincere, and altruistically motivated.

Don’t wait to be grateful

Regardless of your position in an organization, cultivate gratitude as a core part of your work. Don’t wait until you’re leading a tram, a division or a company to become a grateful leader. If you do, when you start telling people you’re grateful for them you’re in the position you want, people won’t buy it. Make sure those around you right now understand that you’re grateful for the many ways they help you each and every day.

Showing your appreciation at work is an important tool to help strengthen relationships and to create a tribe that wants to help you (and keep helping you) succeed. Use these simple tips and your whole office will be glowing with appreciated love and good vibes.


University of California, Berkeley

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