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How to Express Gratitude at Work 

Companies that cultivate gratitude have happier, more productive employees.

The U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday, so it seems like a good time to talk about gratitude and the attention that it has been getting in a new context: at work. While the benefits of gratitude on personal well-being are well-known, there has been less research on the effects of gratitude in the workplace — until recently.

One study from Harvard University and Wharton showed that receiving a “thank you” from a supervisor boosted productivity by more than 50 percent. Yet people are less likely to show gratitude at work than anywhere else — only 10 percent of people who express gratitude make it a daily habit at work and 60 percent of people never or rarely express gratitude at work.

Other statistics on gratitude in the workplace:

  • 93 percent of people agree that grateful bosses are more likely to succeed.
  • 88 percent of people say that expressing gratitude to colleagues makes them feel happier and more fulfilled.
  • 81 percent of people would work harder for a grateful boss.
  • The No. 1 reason why people leave jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. 

How to Express Gratitude at Work 

So, what are the best ways to express gratitude in the workplace? 

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley suggests that remembering four things can help:

1. Gratitude is about the whole person.

Gratitude isn’t the same as recognizing performance and achievement, which rewards work accomplishments. Appreciation “acknowledges your inherent worth as a person,” says consultant and author Mike Robbins. “It’s the difference between celebrating record-breaking sales vs. applauding a caring and helpful spirit.”

2. Gratitude isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Don’t assume that everyone want to be appreciated in the same way — some people like public praise, while others might prefer a personal conversation over coffee.

3. Gratitude must be embraced by leaders.

Getting leaders to participate communicates that gratitude and well-being are important to the organization. It’s also true, however, that gratitude will really take hold in a work culture when it is embraced at all levels. 

4. Gratitude has to be part of the culture.

Employee awards once a year won’t cut it, says Ryan Fehr, an assistant professor of management at the University of Washington, Seattle, who recently published a paper outlining the benefits of gratitude in the workplace. 

For more research on gratitude at work and ideas on how to make it part of your workplace culture, visit OpenIDEO’s problem-solving platform, where IDEO and the Greater Good Science Center are partnering to fund innovative ideas on how to inspire expressions of gratitude in the workplace. 

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.