Why (And How) You Should Promote Gratitude at Your Company

May 12, 2017

There's a massive benefit for employees teaching gratitude to their employees.

What are you grateful for? Your family? A home? These are the typical go-tos when people discuss gratitude. Pop culture is filled with studies touting the benefits of gratitude for health, happiness and overall well-being.

But is it good for business?

According to the Harvard Medical School editorial In Praise of Gratitude, gratitude, “helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build strong relationships.”

Think about that. When organizations devote time and energy to creating positive cultures, they’re often trying to achieve the exact same outcomes gratitude provides: help people feel more positive emotions, deal with adversity and build strong relationships with their coworkers. Yet how often is gratitude training part of the company learning strategy?

Historically, gratitude and the workplace have a somewhat troubled relationship. A Templeton survey found that 35 percent of respondents believed expressing any gratitude could lead coworkers to take advantage of them. But that same survey found people were least likely to express gratitude in workplace, despite wishing to be thanked more often themselves at work.

In other words, people are yearning for the very thing they are afraid to express.

When we think about gratitude at work, we often picture a “you should be grateful for your job” mentality. It’s hardly a feel-good mantra. And mandating gratitude doesn’t work. Yet teaching employees the skills to cultivate and express gratitude has lasting benefits for individual and the organization.

Imagine a customer service rep with the skills to do his job, yet their mood vacillates up and down on a regular basis. Now imagine that same service rep with the skills to cultivate gratitude. Imagine the representative being grateful for each customer who calls. How would that affect the customers?

Imagine the representative using gratitude to reset themselves after a bad call. How would it impact their colleagues and future customers?

Gratitude does not mean humbly accepting scraps. Gratitude is a source of power and confidence. It clears you mind, and enables you to think big picture.

We teach gratitude techniques in our work on culture. Here are the three things the leaders we've worked with have found most helpful:

1. Say thank you. And mean it.

Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino writes, “Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.” 

A culture of gratitude starts with the leader. Saying thank you helps your team, and it also helps you. Verbally saying thank you helps you play the gratitude loop over in your head, and allows the “thankee” to do the same.

Action: Take the extra two seconds to look the person in the eye and smile when you say it. A mumbled “thanks” into your phone is good, but eye contact and a smile is much more effective. 

2. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious. 

Saying “great job” when someone closes a big deal or stays up all night to resolve a customer issue is nice, but you can do more. Try integrating gratitude into mundane situations and even those that are problematic.  

For example, if a member of your team is behind on hitting their sales number, how can you help them feel gratitude? Talk about their best deals, the customers that have benefitted the most, or how much they’ve grown. Getting your team member into a space of gratitude ignites the brain chemicals that will give them the energy to act.

Additionally, people who feel gratitude are more likely to seek support during stressful times, and end up being more resilient.

3. Reward it.

You don’t have to develop a gratitude assessment or a Likert scale. Use your anecdotal feedback to help you here. Point out examples of employees helping each other, serving grateful customers, or even saying thank you. Be very specific when praising gratitude behaviors, and employees will start to see what matters to you.

The takeaway

Too often organizations silo the lives of employees into job function. But if someone isn’t happy, grateful and motivated in life outside of work; how can we expect a magic switch at 9 a.m.?

Giving employees the skills to do a job are tables stakes. Gratitude takes the entire organization higher.

Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth McLeod work with organizations to improve competitive differentiation and emotional engagement. Check out their LinkedIn Learning courses here.