Workplace gratitude is not a phrase which comes readily to mind.
Most of us are taught as children to be grateful for gifts and to thank people for kindness. This carries over to adult life and many have a daily habit of gratitude. Some keep journals of things for which to be grateful. Speaking from personal experience, this can have a profound effect on life and mental wellbeing.
But this does not often spill over into the workplace. In many organisations it may not feel appropriate or comfortable to show gratitude. Employers may be missing out, though, if they don’t encourage a culture of workplace gratitude.
Why should employers encourage workplace gratitude?
Gratitude in daily life can raise energy and positivity. It makes us feel good – and makes the recipient feel good too. In the same way, gratitude at work can raise productivity; help employee engagement and lead to a positive organisational culture.
In turn, these changes lead to better teamwork, higher productivity, staff retention. Employers can see an increase in employee resilience. This can lead to less sickness absence, more innovation, better performance.
Workplace gratitude is definitely a worthwhile investment.
Why don’t we encourage workplace gratitude?
It is, perhaps, understandable that many managers find it difficult to give negative feedback to employees. But why is it so hard for us to say “thank you” at work?
Some managers cannot see why someone should be thanked just because they do their job. But what I am suggesting is that we thank people for specific things they do, rather than just general thanks for doing the job.
There may also be concerns that someone will expect more than just a thank you. If we thank them for doing something well, will they expect a pay rise or a bonus? That is another reason to build a culture where gratitude is an everyday occurrence.
Another fear is that gratitude is somehow “soft” or “cheesy”. The emphasis is on being genuine and authentic. Don’t say “thank you” unless you really feel gratitude. But when you think about the effort involved – or the time saved, or other benefit – then it is easy to feel gratitude.
How to build a culture of gratitude in the workplace
It starts at the very top. If the business owner and leaders take the time to notice the small things which ease the day and contribute to success, then it encourages everyone else to do the same thing. You might feel uncomfortable thanking someone for making sure the printer was stocked with paper but if you thank people regularly, it will become second nature.
The more specific you can be with your thanks, the better. If you thank people in general terms for their work or their contribution, then it ceases to mean much. They will think it is just so much “management speak”. They may not see the real gratitude behind your words.
In the same vein of keeping it authentic, it is better to thank people at the appropriate time, rather than waiting to thank them in a team meeting every month. And remember, some people don’t like to be thanked in public and may prefer an email or a quiet personal word of thanks.
Your thanks will be more authentic if you can show awareness of the small things, as well as major achievements,. Of course it is good to celebrate big successes – a major sale or bringing a new product to market. But it is critical to also thank the employee who took on extra work to cover for a sick colleague, or the person who worked so hard to turn around a complaint from a customer.
Encourage your employees to show gratitude
Encourage your employees to give back to charity initiatives, or to show social responsibility by contributing their skills or time to help others. You can lead the way with an organisational social responsibility agenda, or preferred charities which your company supports.
If you are trying to build a shift in your culture, then consulting with your employees is a good way to start. Talk to them about gratitude and how it can be shown – and received. They will have their own ideas and they will be able to tell you what works for them, and what doesn’t work.
Train your managers and employees to thank each other when things go right and to avoid blame when things are not so good. Look on mistakes as learning opportunities.
But don’t force it. If it is not authentic, then it will feel unnatural and people will be very uncomfortable. We all crave genuine gratitude when we have achieved something or had a success. But that can very soon go sour if there is a lack of authenticity.
Random Acts of Kindness in the workplace
There is a movement afoot in the world to encourage people to carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward. This encompasses things like paying for a coffee for a stranger, or letting a vehicle merge into traffic from a side street.
As with other forms of gratitude, carrying out a random act of kindness leads to more empathy and compassion. It can help us to connect with others and it brings a higher level of energy.
One way to increase workplace gratitude is to encourage random acts of kindness within the workplace. Some suggestions:
- Be on time – or let people know if you cannot avoid being late
- Start and end meetings on time
- Ask questions and really listen to the answers
- Say thank you and mean it
- Make time to chat with someone who needs it
- Pay for someone behind you in the cafeteria, or buy for a colleague
- Give someone a compliment
- Give up a good parking spot
- Leave change in the vending machine
- Hold the door open for someone
- Listen to someone else’s point of view without jumping in or judging them
- Solve someone’s problem
- Do something for someone without being asked
- Make a recommendation about someone
- Give good feedback on someone to their boss
- Do a charity drive (for example, collect postage stamps for your favourite charity)
- Clean up the mess in the kitchen (even if you didn’t make it)
- Ask someone how they are and really be interested in their answer – show you will listen if they are not OK
- Let go of a grudge
- Admit your mistakes
- Be friendly
- Respect others
If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.
Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.