In the same way that gratitude is important for our mental health in our personal lives, we also need it in the workplace for our businesses to thrive. Although it’s important, it can sometimes be challenging to create a work culture that practices gratitude. First and foremost, it cannot be something to which leadership, managers and colleagues pay lip service, it has to be genuine to make a true impact, and so is a tricky practice to embed throughout company culture. Let’s look at what gratitude is, why it’s important, and how to cultivate it in the workplace. And as you’ve probably guessed, it’s more than a quick thank you at the end of an email.
Gratitude and appreciation are not the same thing
The meaning of gratitude can often be confused with words like appreciation. Appreciation is seeing the positives in events, experiences, or other people (like our co-workers) — in other words, acknowledging the goodness in life. Gratitude goes one step further: it recognizes how the positive things in our lives — like a success at work — are often due to forces outside of ourselves, particularly the efforts of other people. Gratitude is an attitude that, with regular practice, you can strengthen and come to employ and enjoy as a habit.
Practicing gratitude is the health boost we all need
Practicing gratitude positively impacts your psychological, physical and social health. Research has found that it can have a long-lasting positive effect on your mood, and that people who write a few sentences each week focusing on gratitude feel more optimistic. It can boost feelings of self-worth and confidence: psychologists found that being thanked for good performance made team members feel a strong sense of self-worth and confidence. It also led to an increase in trust and the initiative to help one another. Practicing gratitude has also been shown to improve your sleep and your physical health, including a stronger immune system.
These benefits show how important it is that you create a work culture that practices gratitude. Think about the roles or teams you have enjoyed working in, and chances are that the people and your relationships with them were a key part of that. Relationships are the fundamental building blocks of organizations, and gratitude is cultivated through relationships, so if we are to enjoy the personal benefits of gratitude, we need to be experiencing them at work. Practicing gratitude at work is a win-win because the more we experience the benefits of gratitude at work, the more we’ll benefit individually, and the more we can give back into the workplace.
How does practicing gratitude benefit your organization?
First of all, practicing gratitude at work will benefit your organization because it will create a positive and open environment, and increase staff retention. Practicing gratitude strengthens the sense of community at work, so everyone feels more confident relying on and collaborating with each other. The confidence it instills helps people to believe that they can achieve their goals, which in turn motivates them to be ambitious in their careers.
Creating a culture of gratitude at work also benefits your business because it increases job satisfaction, making your business a more desirable place to work. It also increases productivity, as a Harvard Medical School study reports. The study found employees who were thanked by their managers made 50% more fundraising calls than their counterparts who hadn’t heard the same token of gratitude.
You never know how timely a sincere thank you can be. As an example, the end of the academic year for teachers is when they’re the most exhausted and need the most pepping up, and being shown gratitude at this time helps them recognize more of their unseen impact, which can be encouraging and impactful. Practicing gratitude makes individuals feel valued, see the impact of their work more clearly, and therefore increases their motivation at work.
Guidelines to create a culture of gratitude in your workplace
Firstly, it’s important to understand that gratitude is not the same as a recognition program. It’s not just celebrating their accomplishments, but who the individual is as a person. Mike Robbins, author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work, describes it as creating “an environment where people feel valued and appreciated for who they are, not just what they do.” So it’s not about congratulating someone for their record-breaking sales, but rather applauding them for their caring and helpful spirit.
Before you start making changes in your workplace, it’s important to consider some of the obstacles that you might face. Think about how professionalism is defined in your workplace, and if that will cause some resistance when starting to talk about and practice gratitude in the workplace — it can feel a bit jarring to think about our reliance on our co-workers.
Plus, remote work makes it harder to have those spontaneous moments with co-workers that build up relationships with them and give us tangible experiences that we can be grateful for. We have probably all had co-workers help us, without us even realizing, because we were not in the same room to experience it.
It takes work to acknowledge the things others do for us, but showing our appreciation for the ways other people help us is a sign of strength that will ultimately bring your team together. Gratitude is ultimately about people and their value.
Some ideas to get you started with practicing gratitude in the workplace
Understandably, we all want to work in a place where we are recognized and appreciated for what we do. The evidence suggests that gratitude creates a work environment where employees actually want to be and don’t feel like cogs in a machine. But how do you go about it? Here are some ideas to get you started on integrating gratitude into your workplace:
Send handwritten thank you notes to co-workers. The handwritten touch shows you’ve sat down and thought about it, adding extra meaning. Check out HBR’s useful guide on how to write a meaningful thank you letter.
If you manage a team, be a role model. Thank your direct reports regularly, and encourage them to do the same. It will soon become a habit of your team, strengthening the sense of community at work.
Create a digital space where you can share your gratitude with the wider company. At Quadmark we have Qudos, a platform where we can share who and what we’re grateful for, which the whole company can look at. This helps us create a grateful culture, even when we work remotely and are spread out all over the world.
Simply ask your team for their suggestions about how to practice gratitude. This could be individual practices, as well as practicing sharing gratitude for each other. We all like being thanked in different ways, and it would be useful to know what ways of thanking your team would most resonate with them.
To wrap up, it’s worth taking the time to think about what practices to put in place that will work best for your company, as each workplace is different. But no matter what the world of work looks like for your team, you can start thanking the people you work with sincerely, openly and with confidence, knowing that it is a seemingly small, but deceptively powerful thing.
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