Leadership, Talent Management

Harnessing the Power of Gratitude in Your Workplace

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We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” ― John F. Kennedy

We all know the good feelings that come with being acknowledged for something that we did. The good feelings result in us wanting to do more to expand that feeling and we continue to look for ways to give our best effort.

While we often have no problems thanking our family, friends and those around us, a study by the John Templeton Foundation showed that many Americans find work to be the last place where they either give or receive thanks.

Why gratitude is so important

There is an attitude that we shouldn’t have to thank people for doing things that they are paid to do. This attitude can result in a loss of productivity and happiness in the workplace. A survey showed that most people reported feeling better when they thanked someone at work, yet surprisingly only a small number had actually done this regularly.

Yet while few of us use gratitude to any degree at work, most of us agree that it is important. In a survey over 90 percent of employees felt that bosses who show gratitude were more successful.

Where does productivity come into the picture? In any job there is a portion of work that is discretionary. When someone feels unappreciated for what they are doing, the chances are greater that they will do the bare minimum (just enough to keep their job) than someone who feels appreciated.

The great thing about gratitude is that the benefits can be enormous, while the cost is minimal. It takes little time and effort to let someone know they are appreciated.

Here are some pointers for how to build a culture of gratitude.

1. Modeling it at that top

The first place that employees will look to for gratitude is their superiors. Feelings of being appreciated by those above them will go a long way towards creating a culture of thankfulness at all levels.

Organizations model the behavior of those who are in positions of power. Lack of appreciation from above will show up at all levels; lack of appreciation of co-workers, loss of workplace morale and higher staff turnover.

 2. Make it specific and authentic

Have you ever been part of a group that the boss always complimented everyone on a job well done? How did you feel?

Maybe the same feeling that you would have if you were part of an email blast that went to everyone. Likely you wouldn’t feel that the praise was authentic or sincere.

This kind of praise happens when managers have been told that they should thank their staff, but really haven’t internalized it or believe they should have to. For them offering gratitude becomes a chore, a task similar to filling monthly reports.

The problem is their staff can feel this and the praise loses all meaning and can result in a lack of respect for the manager. It takes time and effort to notice specific things about the person receiving praise.

3. Ensure there are no ulterior motives

I once had a manager that had a habit of waiting until a meeting where his superior was present before giving out recognition gifts. Instead of feeling recognized, we all felt we were being used by him to gain favor with his boss.

Yes, sincere praise happens even when no one is looking.

4. Tailor it to the individual

Just because you may enjoy being praised in front of others doesn’t mean that everyone does. Some people are shy and even feel embarrassed to be pointed out in front of their peers or a group.

Know the individual, (or ask fellow colleagues, that know them best, if you are not sure) and give some thought as to the best way to recognize them.

Instead of giving everyone the same recognition gift, find out what the person would appreciate. It takes more time and effort, but the receiver will appreciate it more.

5. Create opportunities to think about and share gratitude

How about starting your monthly meeting by going around the room and having everyone express one thing they are grateful for? Or start a gratitude book for the office, that everyone could write in to thank others or mention something good that has happened at work or at home.

Discuss ways that you can make gratitude an important theme at your workplace.

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert and internationally published author of THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success published by the American Management Association of New York. He has an extensive background in career development and social work, and is certified to administer the Bar-On EQI, the first scientifically valid test for emotional intelligence that has been approved by the American Psychological Association.
  • ouida

    After reading Judy Umlas’ books The Power of Acknowledgment and Grateful Leadership I feel like my personal and professional life have been transformed! Gratitude is such a powerful too, and one that doesn’t require anyone’s budget being stretched. This is a great post!

  • http://www.good.co/blog Lisa – Good.Co

    Well said! Probably the best job I ever had was in the lowly land of retail, at a small independent store. Apart from the relaxed atmosphere and cool product (games and quirky gifts), there was a general feeling of appreciation that was frequently reinforced by the store’s owners. From simple things like saying thank you upon completion of an assigned task – even the everyday kind – to grander gestures like the annual Christmas party at the home of one of the owners, replete with home cooking and many merry-making beverages. We as staff knew we were valued, so we were more willing to pull through some harder times (like a sharp drop-off of hours during the post-holiday slump), and to work hard for the store’s success. I have yet to experience a work situation to truly top it.
    Cheers! Lisa Chatroop, Good.Co

  • Judith Umlas

    Harvey, you and I are definitely and quite literally “on the same page.” Thanks to Ouida for mentioning the two books published by our company, International Institute for Learning, on this important topic (we now have a third one geared toward kids). We have so many true stories about the difference that gratitude and acknowledgment make on our blog. Please visit and feel free to comment as well: http://www.gratefulleadership.com/blog/
    We are grateful that others are spreading the word about this powerful, transformational tool! Judith W. Umlas