The fourth thing I have learned in my work as a Career Coach is that people don’t leave jobs merely because of money and titles, they leave jobs because of other people. What do I mean by this? I mean that lack of support, kindness, and recognition from supervisors, colleagues, and even supervisees are why people start looking elsewhere. Sure, sometimes it can be about the money or the title, but most of the time it’s much more complicated than that. People leave because they have supervisors that throw more work at them, but never say thank you or show their gratitude by allowing work flexibility for family, supporting professional development, or other forms of recognition. They look for new opportunities when they feel a lack of collegiality with their team members and don’t feel that their peers are supportive of or happy about their successes. People leave when they do all they can to go to bat to support their supervisees, and are met with an attitude that their efforts weren’t good enough by their staff. Essentially, we leave jobs most often because a culture of organizational gratitude simply does not exist.
Organizational Gratitude Survey Results
The John Templeton Foundation conducted a comprehensive survey on gratitude, interviewing more than 2000 Americans (Kaplan, 2012). With regard to careers, there were some really interesting findings. The survey showed that people are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else. 74% of those surveyed indicated that they never or rarely express gratitude to their boss. However, individuals strongly desire to have a boss who shows gratitude to them. 70% shared that they would feel better about themselves if their boss demonstrated more gratitude and 81% said they would work harder for a grateful boss. Gratitude can also lead to success at work. 93% of those surveyed feel that bosses who are grateful are more likely to be successful because people will support them. Gratitude doesn’t only have a positive impact on the receiver, but also for the giver. 88% of people indicated that expressing gratitude to their colleagues makes them feel happier and more fulfilled.
According to a survey of 770 U.S.-based HR professionals, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Globoforce (2012, Winter), among organizations that measure the return on investment (ROI) of their employee recognition programs, HR leaders observed some astoundingly positive results. 63% cited a boost in employee productivity, 61% noticed enhanced employee engagement, 58% saw a return on profit margins, 52% observed increased customer retention, and 51% indicated they saw greater employee retention.
These surveys speak to the positive impact that gratitude/recognition can have in the workplace. Research studies conducted in a variety of work settings further supports these survey results.
Research Findings on Gratitude in the Workplace
Michie (2009) studied 71 managers and 227 employees from 71 different organizations in the U.S., in a variety of industries, including financial services, consulting, health care, construction, manufacturing, and retail sales. She found that leaders’ own sense of gratitude positively impacts their effectiveness in equitably managing subordinates. In essence, leaders with higher levels of gratitude are more likely to recognize their employees’ contributions and treat them with dignity and respect.
A study of 79 Nurses in Canada, conducted by Burke, Ng, & Fiksenbaum (2009), found a host of positive outcomes that are associated with gratitude. Nurses scoring higher on gratitude indicated: greater job satisfaction, life satisfaction, vigor, dedication, and efficacy; less work absences, exhaustion, psychosomatic symptoms, and cynicism; higher ratings of their work health/safety climate and quality of health care at work; and perceiving higher levels of hospital support.
Waters (2012) conducted a study of 171 employees in Australia across two different industries, teaching and finance. She assessed the impact of employee perceptions of gratitude on job satisfaction. Waters found that institutionalized gratitude—gratitude embedded within an organization, through its people, policies, and practices (Cameron, 2012)—significantly predicted employees’ job satisfaction.
A study of 308 managers in the U.S., conducted by Andersson, Giacalone, & Jurkierwics (2007), found that stronger feelings of gratitude increase leaders’ concern for corporate social responsibility (CSR), facilitating their sense of accountability toward employees and philanthropy in the larger community.
Howells (2012) instituted a year-long, organizationally-based gratitude intervention (OBGI) with teachers from two schools in Australia. Teachers formed a gratitude group and met each week in the staff room to explore gratitude. Her study results indicated that teachers in the OBGI reported improved wellbeing and relationships.
Finally, a study of 174 members of an interdenominational church HIV/AIDS volunteer care team in the U.S., conducted by Bennett, Ross, & Sunderland (1996), found a myriad of positive outcomes. They found that volunteers who received expressions of gratitude from HIV/AIDS clients and/or recognition and support from their managers, experienced less burnout (emotional exhaustion and depersonalization). Benefits of experiencing less burnout at work include reduced attrition and enhanced quality of life at work.
What about the Companies & Leaders Who are Already Practicing Organizational Gratitude?
There are plenty of organizations and leaders who recognize the importance of practicing gratitude in the workplace. I was fortunate to interview members and supporters of some of these gratitude-driven companies.
Chris Attwood, co-author of New York Times bestsellers, The Passion Test – The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose and Your Hidden Riches, shared with me the practice of Japan’s largest individual investor, Wahei Takeda, who is often described as “the Warren Buffet of Japan.” Chris cited that for Wahei Takeda, “gratitude has been the basis of all his wealth and his ability to recover from two serious illnesses. He practices saying ‘Aigato’ or ‘thank you’ a thousand times a day and plays recordings of children singing ‘Arigato, Arigato’ in his candy factories. He believes the influence on the workers of this practice is the reason his Arigato candies are the most popular in Japan.”
Dr. Michael Ray Smith, Professor of Journalism at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s School of Communication & Media, shared with me how he practices gratitude by keeping what he refers to as a “Blessings File” of his personal and professional blessings. He stated, “The blessings file can be as simple of as a folder that includes thank you cards or email affirmations.” At the University where he works, he encourages both his colleagues and college students to do the same. Michael pointed out, “It’s easy to forget all the great kudos we receive day after day. I once watched the president of another college toss a thank you card. Wrong response. The best approach is to insert it into a file to savor another day when the barometer is low and the walls are closing in. Those written remarks may not be on the level as a presidential citation but any good word can help a person realize how much she can be thankful.”
Courtney Lindemann, a Senior Account Executive with Steve Allen Media, shared with me the wonderful ways that her company practices organizational gratitude. With the company tagline “PR with a Conscience,” Steve Allen Media, a PR agency with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, takes pride in working with companies and individuals who strive to make a difference in today's world. They surround everything they do with gratitude and integrity. Courtney told me, “Every day that I get to come to work and feel like I’m making a difference in the world is a beautiful day and one that I feel grateful for.” She said that the Steve Allen Media team has a daily practice each morning where they gather in the conference room to discuss their “Gratitude List.” Courtney shared the process of their morning workplace gratitude ritual, “We focus on what is good in our lives; express gratitude for our accomplishments, blessings, and gifts; and choose not to complain. We let go of the past, things that are temporary, things that are trying to hold us back, and commit to continuous improvement and the pursuit of excellence. We discuss why the future is always bright and exciting and we conclude every meeting by reminding each other to listen to our souls. It sets such a wonderful tone for the day and allows us to connect on a deeper level as a company and as a professional family.”
US Standard Products is another excellent example of a company that values and practices gratitude, with a remarkable commitment to corporate social responsibility. Their company mission is “to provide American industry with the highest quality products available and to give back to the people that most deserve it by supporting those less fortunate individuals and their families with the financial and personal commitment they so richly deserve.” US Standard Products is so grateful and devoted to charitable giving that they donate a portion of company profits to select charitable organizations, dedicate a tab on their website to charitable giving, and readily promote their charitable partners on social media. Furthermore, the company shared with me, “The owner, grateful for the care a gravely ill family member received, now gives back to the organization that helped him cope through a difficult time. Another founder hasn't forgotten what it was like during the company's origins and how they struggled to grow the business. He has earmarked a portion of the company's profits to help others who may be struggling to get on their feet. The founders have also directed a portion of profits to veteran's groups, showing gratitude to the men and women who ensure the freedom for them to have a business. Showing gratitude is not only the right thing to do, but it sets an example for employees, their families, and customers.”
I also had the pleasure of interviewing Hamilton Powell, CEO of Crown & Caliber, about his dedication to the practice of organizational gratitude through their corporate social responsibility initiatives. Their ultimate goal is to do more than just build a company, they want to create a legacy that outlives them. Hamilton shared, “With every watch that we consign, a portion of those earnings goes to MAP International, who uses those funds to provide life-saving medical attention to children in need. We know that our time on earth is short, but the contributions and the changes that we can bring about can last much longer. Because MAP International is also located in Atlanta, we have had the opportunity to work closely with the members of the organization and enjoy getting constant updates on the lives that have been touched through our donations. It is a great reminder that there are things in life that are bigger and more important than ourselves and it also serves as great incentive to work harder. Since our founding, we have donated more than $3MM worth of life saving medicines to sick children in third world countries. That is a legacy of which we can be proud.”
Bringing it All Together: 7 Strategies for Instituting Organizational Gratitude Practices in Your Workplace
There are countless ways to cultivate organizational gratitude. Here are a few of my favorite practices.
1. Start with Leadership, Having Leaders Create Recognition Rituals & Practices: “Employees need to hear ‘thank you’ from the boss first” (Smith, 2013, May 16). When someone is hired, supervisors can ask them how they like to be thanked. When an employee leaves, leaders can throw them a goodbye party and express appreciation for their contributions. Leaders can also build gratitude into organizational culture through performance reviews, supporting professional development, offering flexible working options (i.e., one work from home day per week), involving employees in decision making, expressing gratitude during staff meetings, giving thank you cards, and coordinating celebratory events (Smith, 2013, May 16; gThankYou LLC, Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude).
2. Initiate a Co-Worker Thank You Card Program: Ask employees to keep an eye out for moments when a co-worker helps them out or contributes in a way that positively impacts them or the organization as a whole. Create a practice that involves employees giving a Thank You Card to colleagues they feel grateful for (gThankYou LLC, Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude). Particularly pay attention to thanking those who rarely get thanked. These cards can be the start of a great Blessings File, as mentioned by Dr. Michael Ray Smith.
3. Create a Co-Worker Gratitude Wall: Using a large bulletin board, post sticky notes, paper notes, or cards of thanks to specific co-workers that you are thankful for and state why. This allows the gratitude to be publicly displayed where everyone can see (Smith, 2013, May 16).
4. Establish a Weekly Workplace Gratitude Meeting: Much like the practice of Steve Allen Media, establish a weekly team Gratitude Meeting where employees can share the professional people and events they are grateful for that week.
5. During Periods of High Stress or Professional Challenge, Reflect on Gratitude: “Cultivating a culture of gratitude might be the best way to help a workplace prepare for stresses that come with change, conflict, and failure” (Smith, 2013, May 16). You can utilize the following series of questions to help people recover from difficult experiences: “(1) What lessons did the experience teach us?, (2) Can we find ways to be thankful for what happened to us now, even though we were not at the time it happened?, (3) What ability did the experience draw out of us that surprised us?, (4) Are there ways we have become a better workplace because of it?, and (5) Has the experience removed an obstacle that previously prevented us from feeling grateful?” (Smith, 2013, May 16).
6. Institute an Annual Employee Recognition Celebration: Each year, hold a celebratory event, either in or outside of the office, to recognize and thank team members. You can provide Award Certificates to acknowledge individuals for their specific contributions.
7. During Staff Meetings, Ask for Compliments instead of Complaints: During regularly scheduled staff meetings, make a ritual practice of asking employees to provide a compliment of thanks to each of their co-workers (gThankYou LLC, Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude).
For gratitude cards and tools, you can utilize great sites like www.baudville.com, www.recognizeme.com, and www.awardconcepts.net.
Is Your Organization Grateful?
Take this Greater Good Science Center Quiz to find out: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/12.
Instituting gratitude practices in the workplace has countless benefits and there are so many ways to do it, all you need to start with is one. Which idea is your favorite? If you are a leader in your organization, pick your favorite and try it out. Or, pitch your favorite idea to your supervisor and let them know the potential benefits and how you can be of help in initiating and/or maintaining the practice.
Finally, I want to thank my interview subjects for their amazing insights. I couldn’t have written this piece without them.
Andersson, L., Giacalone, R., & Jurkierwics, C. (2007). On the relationship of hope and gratitude to corporate social responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 70, 401–409.
Bennett, L., Ross, M. W., & Sunderland, R. (1996). The relationship between recognition, rewards and burnout in aids caring. Aids Care-Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of Aids/HIV, 8, 145-153.
Burke, R. J., Ng, E. S. W., & Fiksenbaum, L. (2009). Virtues, work satisfactions and psychological wellbeing among nurses. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 2(3), 202-219.
Cameron, K. (2012). Effects of virtuous leadership of organizational performance. In S. I. Donaldson, M. Csikszentmihlyi., & J. Nakamura (Eds.), Applied positive psychology: Improving everyday life, health, schools, work and Society (pp. 171-183). East Sussex: Routledge.
gThankYou LLC. Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude. Retrieved from: www.gthankyou.com.
Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Kaplan, J. (2012). Gratitude Survey. John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved from: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_grateful_are_americans.
Michie, S. (2009). Pride and gratitude: How positive emotions inﬂuence the prosocial behaviors of organizational leaders. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 15, 393–404.
SHRM/Globoforce (2012, Winter). Employee Recognition Survey. Retrieved from: http://go.globoforce.com/rs/globoforce/images/SHRMWinter2012Report.PDF.
Smith, J. A. (2013, May 16). Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work. Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_ways_to_cultivate_gratitude_at_work.
Waters, L. (2012). Predicting Job Satisfaction: Contributions of individual gratitude and institutionalized gratitude. Psychology, 3, 1174-1176.