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  • Writer's pictureJeanine Riedl

Gratitude at Work

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Certain behaviors and responses have been passed down from generation to generation. It is likely because these actions proved to be beneficial to our survival success. Take, for instance, the universal norm of saying “thank you.” We can all recall a time when someone prompted us to say the “magic word” after someone freely gave something to us that we recognized we wanted or needed. Expressing thanks helps create social bonds. We’ll be reminded of this fact soon enough as we all gather around our Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) tables.

Perhaps then, during this annual season of appreciation, it’s only appropriate to consider gratitude at work––no, not as in being in progress, but actually at our places of work.

The Benefits of Gratitude

As a marketing communications professional and non-practicing lawyer, I like facts. Facts lend credibility to any position, opinion, or stance. I also appreciate the scientific fields, which test hypotheses and establish theories; I especially enjoy psychology and its study of human behavior, which has found and measured numerous benefits pertaining to gratitude, including increased optimism and happiness.

  • Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami conducted a 10-week study in which three groups of individuals were asked to compose a few sentences each week, focusing on a particular topic. One group focused on gratitude, capturing those things that made them feel grateful. The second focused on displeasure, accounting for those things that made them feel irritated. The third focused on general things––no particular emphasis on being positive or negative––that affected them. After ten weeks, the group who focused on gratitude felt more optimistic and better about their lives.

  • Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and three additional psychologists conducted a study that found gratitude might have longer-lasting effects. Participants were asked to write a letter and deliver it to someone they felt they hadn’t properly thanked. Participants immediately received high happiness scores with benefits lasting for a month.

  • Besides increased optimism and happiness, additional studies also have found that gratitude can increase productivity, efficiency, success, performance (Emmons, 2003; Grant and Wrzesniewski, 2010) and well-being (Emmons, 2003), which would be beneficial to many American companies that spend millions of dollars on wellness and retention programs each year.

But if gratitude is so beneficial, why do we seem to be taking it for granted at our places of work? According to a recent TinyPulse report, only one-third of workers receive recognition when they go the extra mile.

Common Myths & Misconceptions

During my professional career, I have heard the following gratitude-giving sentiments, which don’t serve an organization and seem to be contrary to fact:

“They are getting paid to do good work.” That may be true, but work is a two-way street, and it should be a mutually beneficial relationship. A job might result in a paycheck, but the majority of workers––not just millennials and Gen Z––want to feel that their contributions matter; it creates a sense of meaning. Gratitude is like GPS; it helps people know where they are and keeps them on track, which is beneficial for the individual and the organization; it’s a win-win situation.

Reality Check:

  • 70% of workers claim they would work harder (yes, even harder) if they sensed their efforts were being better recognized (Source: Hubspot).

“I don’t have time to give out continuous praise.” Being pummeled with praise and giving praise merely for praise’s sake is not sincere, authentic, and meaningful. Instead, with regularity and reflection, identify key upcoming organizational projects that are important, and make a point to express gratitude for a job well done upon its completion. If you have time to dole out assignments, you can take the time to follow up on them. After all, those finished projects contribute to the organization’s bottom line.

Reality Check:

“They’ll become prideful, demand more pay.” Maybe or maybe not. However, if your organization is doing well and has a staff, realize that you wouldn’t be as effective, efficient, and profitable without them. If someone is performing well, absolutely, unequivocally express gratitude. And if work life is made easier because of his or her contributions, a pay raise also be a worthwhile investment.

Reality Check:

  • 60% of workers would take half the pay for a job they love (Source: Lexington Law)

Beyond Employees

Gratitude should also be expressed to the audiences you serve––donors, members, clients, and customers. Ensure your organization does something beyond the “ask.” A thank you after the ask is expected and, most likely, is an automated reply––“thank you” for your purchase, contribution, subscription, or patronage. A gesture of gratitude that’s unexpected, however, is much more memorable, special. Recognize that monies received could have been spent with a competitor or in any number of other ways, but they choose to spend it on something your organization offered.

In Closing, Thank You

After I clear up the plates from this year's festive, food-filled gathering, I will remember not only to give thanks for that day, but also for the 364 days that follow, celebrating and being grateful for all the connections who have brought me to this professional place, including you––thank you for reading this; I am grateful.


Additional References:

Emmons, R. A. (2003). Acts of gratitude in organizations. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton & R. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 81-93). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Emmons, R. A., and McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84(2), 377-389.

Grant, A. M., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). I won’t let you down… or will I? core self-evaluations, other-orientation, anticipated guilt and gratitude, and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology,95(1), 108-121.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.


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