Action Plan: 4 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work

(This post is part of our 2014 Resolve to Evolve program.)

Jeremy Adam Smith, producer and editor of the Greater Good Science Center ‘s website, lists four ways to begin fostering gratitude in your job:

1. Start at the top

This is one of the clearest takeaways from research into workplace gratitude: Employees need to hear “thank you” from the boss first. That’s because expressing gratitude can make some people feel unsafe, particularly in a workplace with a history of ingratitude. It’s up to the people with power to clearly, consistently, and authentically say “thank you” in both public and private settings.

2. Thank the people who never get thanked

Every organization has a class of employee that hogs all the glory. In hospitals, it’s doctors. At universities, it’s faculty. And every organization has high-profile individuals. But what about those who cut the checks, submit the invoices, mop the floors, write the copy?

Thanking those who do thankless work is crucial because it sets the bar and establishes the tone. Yes, faculty do the research and teaching core to a university’s mission, but without a cadre of staff behind them they’d have to raise money for their own salaries and empty their own wastebaskets. Public appreciation of, for example, administration and physical plant staff makes their contributions visible and thus broadens everyone’s understanding of how the organization functions—and needless to say, it improves morale and increases trust.

3. Aim for quality, not quantity

Forcing people to be grateful doesn’t work. It feeds the power imbalances that undermine gratitude in the first place, and it can make expressions of gratitude feel inauthentic.

The key is to create times and spaces that foster the voluntary, spontaneous expression of gratitude. It’s also the case that studies consistently show that there is such a thing as too much gratitude—it seems trying to be grateful everyday induces gratitude fatigue.
How do you convey authenticity? Details are decisive. When you are specific about the benefits of a person, action, or thing, it increases your own appreciation—and it tells a person that you are paying attention, rather than just going through the motions.

4. Provide many opportunities for gratitude

When people are thanked for their work, they are more likely to increase their helping behavior and to provide help to others. But not everyone likes to be thanked—or likes to say “thank you”—in public. They may be shy or genuinely modest.

The key is to create many different kinds of opportunities for gratitude.

For example, research consistently finds that keeping a gratitude journal makes you twenty-five percent happier. Can an office keep a journal? Of course!
The Administration and Finance office of the University of California, Berkeley, created an appreciation platform that allows employees to recognize each other’s contributions, which feeds into a “Kudos” webpage that publicly highlights these contributions.

Gift-giving is another way to foster gratitude. Research shows that giving gifts may have an important effect on working relationships and reciprocity—and non-monetary gifts are the most beneficial of all.

Giving creates gratitude, but giving can also be a good way to express gratitude, especially if the person in question is shy. You can say “thanks” by taking on scut work, lending a parking space, or giving a day off. These kinds of non-monetary gifts can lead to more trust in working relationships, if it’s reciprocal, sincere, and altruistically motivated.


Johanna Price

Johanna Price is a writer and editor living in the Twin Cities. Follow her on Twitter @johannaprice.

One Response

  1. […] also is a great reminder of how much more meaning we can give if we thank people who are never thanked. The actions we deem with an entitled notion that what was provided is not extraordinary. Therefore […]

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