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5 Steps to Cultivate Gratitude at Work (and Why It Matters)

Written by
Laura Saracho
Laura Saracho

Practicing gratitude at home is a key ingredient to self-care, but what about giving thanks in the workplace?

If you're celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day, now is the time to put your gratitude practice front and center! 

According to a survey conducted by the John Templeton Foundation, the workplace lands at the bottom of most of our gratitude lists. Yikes. 😬

However, let’s not lose hope: Research also shows that practicing gratitude can build strong relationships and improve health and wellbeing. Experts have run studies that show how gratitude at work can decrease mistreatment on a team, helping employees feel psychologically safe and engaged. 

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Similar to employee recognition, workers want and need to know their work is appreciated! Expressing gratitude at work is an easy and quick way to boost performance and retention.

The best part? Saying thanks doesn’t have to cost a dime to reap impactful ROI. In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, scientists unveiled that 93% of employees who reported feeling valued said they are motivated to do their best at work.

Want more? Check out our Essential Guide to Employee Engagement every HR leader should read! 

So, how can we bridge the gap between the positive benefits of gratitude and the absence of expressing gratitude at work?

It all comes down to intention — and intervention! An intervention may sound intimidating, but it simply means being proactive about creating a culture of gratitude and introducing different ways people can give thanks.

According to Harvard Business Review, gratitude interventions:

  • Strengthen motivation to behave prosocially
  • Foster close interpersonal relationships
  • Improve self-control
  • Enhance feelings of support

Let’s walk you through some steps to cultivate a gratitude intervention at work. 

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Simple—and Effective—Ways to Show Gratitude at Work 

  • Focus on sincerity

Authenticity plays a key role when giving thanks. It’s easy to decipher genuine appreciation from something that feels forced. Avoid complimenting a teammate as a tee-up to delivering difficult feedback, and don’t save all your thank yous to cheer someone up after a tough meeting. If you’re giving constant thanks when you don’t mean it, that could lead to serious gratitude fatigue. Show gratitude when it feels necessary, not forced. 

  • Don’t limit your team to top-down gratitude giving

Expressing appreciation at work is a new practice at many organizations, so it can feel awkward or even unsafe to flex those thank you muscles. If your organization is new to building a culture of gratitude, it can be effective to focus first on your leadership team. If employees see top management excited to give thanks, it’s a green light alerting the rest of the company that it's safe to open the thank you floodgates! 

Still, there are so many important contributions made every single day that can’t all be captured by a top-down gratitude practice! Similar to employee recognition, make sure your company encourages a peer-to-peer and bottom-up gratitude practice, too.

  • Identify different ways to give thanks

Your employees will have different preferences when it comes to giving and receiving thanks. When introducing the practice of gratitude, we recommend offering a variety of ways people can say thanks, like:

    • Keep an office gratitude journal. Just like the gratitude journal many folks might have on their bedside table, companies have successfully experimented with office gratitude journaling. Supply branded notebooks for your employees and encourage them to write five work-related things they are grateful for before signing offline. ✍️

    • Create a Slack or Teams channel. If your company uses a chat tool, create a channel specific to gratitude as a virtual board for anyone to say thanks. Having visible acts of gratitude can have what psychologists call “the snowball effect,” encouraging a consistent culture of giving thanks while helping the gratitude-giver continue to find more and more things to be thankful for.

  • Give gifts.

    Many people feel compelled to give a small present as a token of appreciation—and many will feel especially loved on the receiving end. The gift doesn’t need to break the bank, either. Consider a gift card to a local coffee shop, hip company swag, or a batch of homemade cookies

 

  • Use a recognition tool like Bonusly!

    We couldn’t not mention our product. But it’s for good reason! Bonusly’s recognition tool makes it fun and easy to say thank you to coworkers. It’s simple: your team is given a monthly allowance so users can give bonuses to their peers, direct reports, and managers. Bonuses can be given in real-time and publicly so everybody can join in on the celebration and see what great things their teammates are doing.

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Need more motivation? Read all about The Elements of an Effective Reward System!

  • Cultivate gratitude when things go wrong

It’s easy to give thanks when things are going great. But what about when facing challenges?

According to Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude, teams should focus on turning “an obstacle into an opportunity” to reframe a mistake as a potential benefit.

How can you do this? Consider team retros where folks come together to discuss a big project or initiative, and spell out what went great and what could be improved. Use areas of weakness as a chance to learn how to do things differently. You can also ask the following questions:

    • What lessons did our team learn from this project?
    • In what ways can we work smarter and more efficiently now that we’ve experienced this obstacle?
    • What surprised you about experiencing this challenge?

  • Compensate fairly

Giving and receiving thanks on a daily basis at work is important. It’s also critical that employees feel valued based on the compensation they receive for their work. We’re human, and at the end of the day we need strong incentives to show up and do our best. Being compensated fairly is a huge way a company can show they understand the value each employee provides to the mission every day. 

Gratitude at Work: The Takeaway 

A little thanks can go a long way—improving employee satisfaction, engagement, and even retention. For World Gratitude Day, we challenge your team to bring appreciation to the forefront of your to-do list and identify what ways giving thanks feels authentic to you. Encourage others to join in, and see how that impacts the overall morale at work! Bonus points: Play Gratitude Bingo! 🤩

For a fun and easy tech solution to giving thanks, we invite you to take a tour or request a demo of Bonusly, our recognition and rewards program, too :)

Need more ideas on how to improve employee engagement? Check out our big list of creative reward ideas, or download this resource:

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Originally published on November 21, 2021 → Last updated November 22, 2021

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Laura Saracho

Laura is the content marketing manager at Bonusly and is passionate about employee engagement and uncovering creative, data-driven ways to drive impact. She loves writing and going on excessively long trail runs.

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