Tips for Cultivating Gratitude in the Workplace

“Thank you.” Isn’t that nice to hear? Would you like to work for a company that makes cultivating gratitude in the workplace a priority? Yes, me too. Treating your employees with gratitude can pay off with stronger engagement. It is also a topic that will help companies stand out from the competition when trying to attract and retain the top talent. 

Gratitude is a training topic we cover in our curriculum supporting companies returning to work after quarantine. As our nation continues to struggle to re-open during the pandemic, cultivating gratitude is a topic you don’t want to overlook. Recognize the obstacles your employees have overcome when they were asked to suddenly work from home.  

When the quarantine orders started, we all scrambled to make the changes necessary to have employees work from home. Employees rose to the occasion, and found ways to still be productive among the new distractions of working from home. They became teachers and caregivers, while still carrying a full workload. They are still dealing with stress and anxiety from the threat of the virus and from the isolation. 

Employees are always dealing with a variety of emotions, whether it’s during a pandemic or not. And whether or not you address the emotion as an employer, these emotions will affect the work. A little gratitude from a coworker or manager can go a long way with relieving stress or increasing satisfaction in the workplace.

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Why Gratitude?

Businesses and employees have a mutually dependent relationship. Businesses need employees to run operations and employees need the job, paycheck and benefits to take care of their families. We all need each other, so why not make the effort to be grateful?

Modern neuroscience shows that the cultivation of gratitude also helps us to become more mindful of the life around us and what circumstance we’re in. Think about this in terms of safety in the workplace. If employees are more mindful of their surroundings, to wear their PPE, and to follow safety protocols, you should have fewer safety incidents and accidents. (Our eBook on the costs of not training goes into much more detail.)

The benefits of gratitude in the workplace extend beyond the bottom line. In some cases we spend more time with our coworkers than we do with our families. Why wouldn’t we want to be nice to each other? It’s a lesson we learn in kindergarten.

Saying thank you makes you, the “thanker” feel good! Being thanked makes the “thankee” feel good as well. (Not really a word.) There is research that says people with higher levels of gratitude have signs of better psychological health, including higher levels of perceived social support and lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. In other words, they feel good!

When I am in a funk, I like to bake some goodies for the office. Making other people feel better and feel appreciated puts me in a good mood too. Gooey butter cakes, chocolate caramel oatmeal bars, chocolate chip cookies...they all work!


What Kind of Company Do You Want to Be?

As an employer, what kind of reputation do you want? What are your core values?  What kind of company do you want to be? This will dictate how you treat your employees and how they will treat each other. 

There are people who have the point-of-view “in this economy be grateful you have a job.”  That’s it. That’s what your paycheck is for. I think that company culture is more about doing the bare minimum with no inspiration to grow, take risks, or innovate.

Other people have the attitude that when employees are genuinely appreciated, they will do more for the company. That you should treat employees as human beings not just as an asset. They will give you the extra effort to do a better job and contribute more. They will stay with the company longer and be more loyal so you have lower turnover. 


Creating a Culture of Gratitude Starts with Leadership 

If your culture doesn’t currently place a high value on gratitude, this one may be challenging for you to raise with senior management. The idea here is to recognize how much we rely on employees and ensure they feel valued and appreciated. This is especially important if you are returning to work after quarantine and after employee furloughs or layoffs.  

Years ago in a previous job, I remember giving a project update to senior management in the executive board room. At the end of the meeting, the president said “Thanks, Kathy, good job” and he moved to the next topic of the meeting. That moment meant the world to me even though it was casual and informal. It came from the top and it was in front of the entire executive team. It spoke to the company culture and set an example to me as a manager. Gratitude from leadership can be shown through formal employee recognition programs. It’s common to thank employees for their years of service. Whether an award is included or not, managers can thank employees for their hard work and loyalty to the company. Spot recognition awards are also common ways to recognize and thank employees via printed certificates or electronic notes via email or an app.  

Managers and leaders can also show gratitude via informal methods during their daily routine. A simple verbal “thank you” like my example above can be very meaningful. Recognizing an employee’s accomplishment in a team meeting or in a company update video can also be an important part of your gratitude mix.  


Tips for Cultivating Gratitude in the Workplace

There are a number of strategies you can use to cultivate gratitude in your workplace. 

  • Top-down thankfulness. This is where it starts. Leaders set the culture of the company. This will be especially important if your employees are taking on additional responsibilities due to layoffs. Employees will rally during tough times but leadership needs to take the time to recognize the fact that team members are now carrying a heavier load during a stressful time. They have to show gratitude.
  • Open communication. Maintaining transparency with your employees is a sign of respect. Communicating the true state of the business within legal restrictions is an important way to make employees feel like they are not only a vital part of the organization, but they also have a stake in how the business fares as well. 
  • Positive reinforcement. It’s easy for managers to notice when something goes wrong or when a mistake is made. Take the time to acknowledge a job well done or to celebrate the accomplishments. Thank the person who steps up to do that unwanted task like cleaning up after a company lunch.
  • Offering personal development. Investing in the personal growth of your employees is a mutually beneficial way to show you care. It’s called “personal” growth, so be sure to offer training topics that are meaningful to the employee. You might also subsidize memberships to professional organizations to give the employee an opportunity to network with industry peers, secure speaking engagements, and build their personal brand and reputation.  
  • Supporting volunteer activities. If you are able to participate in charitable activities as a company, you will foster a spirit of togetherness and teamwork among your employees. It also helps them feel as if they are doing something meaningful. 

At the end of the day, building a culture of gratitude will make your company a much nicer place to work. People will be happier and less stressed. Part of this idea is also to get employees to give you that extra, incremental effort. To occasionally work over the weekend for a special project. To proactively look for ways to improve operations, save on expenses, or create new ideas for growth.

This reminds me of the movie “Office Space.” Ultimately, you want employees to want to wear more flair! Gratitude will get them to want to wear more flair!

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