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6 Min Read

The Importance of Gratitude at Work

Nicole Klemp

It’s been a tough couple of years, and many employees have felt an impact on their mental health and wellbeing as they deal with both internal and external stressors. HR leaders are struggling too, as they try to support employees emotionally while also answering to executives on issues like low morale, poor employee performance, and increased turnover.

When our batteries are constantly being drained at work, we start to slow down — and if they never get charged, we’ll eventually turn off altogether. Sometimes, a simple gesture of gratitude or a sincere thank you for our efforts can give us the boost we need. 

In March and April of 2020, people in New York City banged on pots and pans and cheered for doctors and nurses heading to and from work to treat COVID-19 patients. That appreciation and the recognition of how hard they were working helped give many healthcare workers the strength to carry on in an extremely difficult and uncertain time. 

While you may not be saving lives at work, everyone deserves to feel appreciated for what they do. We all want to be part of a team that supports one another and takes the time to recognize each other’s hard work with kindness and gratitude.

Benefits of gratitude in the workplace

Showing appreciation and gratitude in the workplace is a valued practice in highly-engaged, high-performing organizations. According to research by Harvard Business Review, gratitude improves wellbeing, reduces stress, and builds resilience. People are also more willing to help others who have shown them gratitude in the past.

Francesca Gino and Adam Grant studied the importance of gratitude in the workplace and shared it on a podcast series. In one study, they had participants edit a student’s cover letter. Half of the participants then received a neutral message from the student acknowledging they’d received their feedback. The other half received a grateful note, where the student expressed their sincere thanks and appreciation. 

So, what do you think happened when the students asked the same participants for help a second time? The ones who got the note of gratitude were twice as likely to agree to help them again.

Why is gratitude important?

Our data continues to show some other great benefits of gratitude in the workplace, including: 

  • Increased engagement: Organizations that recognize their people inspire real connection.
  • Higher productivity: When employees feel celebrated and valued, they’re more excited to work.
  • Better retention: A positive recognition strategy boosts morale and breeds loyalty.
  • Greater motivation: Regular appreciation gives people fresh purpose and momentum.
  • More satisfied customers: Employees who are openly praised earn higher loyalty and satisfaction scores.
  • Stronger connections: Remote teams feel more connected when positive feedback rolls in.

Ways to show your appreciation to colleagues and direct reports

Different workplace environments and cultures may be better suited to different channels or places for sharing appreciation and thanks. If the majority of your employees work on a computer, then an email or post on Slack may be appropriate. 

If your company uses 15Five, you can also give virtual High Fives to show your appreciation.

High Fives are our most popular feature, as they help promote a culture of gratitude and recognition that can be felt by in-office and remote employees alike.  

If you have employees who don’t work in an online environment, thanks can be given in person, with a phone call or text message, or in a handwritten note. What matters most is that sincere appreciation is given, regardless of the method in which it’s delivered.

The importance of gratitude that is timely and meaningful

When delivering a show of gratitude in the workplace, try to say thank you as soon as possible after the employee performed the action or did the work you want to recognize. (But don’t let how much time has passed stop you from saying thanks —  a late thank you is still better than none.)

Another thing to remember is to keep your gratitude meaningful. That is, don’t overuse it. If someone is known to gush over every little thing people do, it waters down their gratitude and makes it seem less sincere. Obviously, you should always be polite and say thank you, but you probably don’t need to send flowers every time someone does their job. Be thoughtful about when you express gratitude and give shoutouts when they’re truly deserved.

Social psychologist Heidi Grant also recommends keeping shows of thanks and gratitude focused on the person you’re praising. She says we humans have a tendency to talk about ourselves when thanking others. 

Grant says to avoid “me” statements like this in your praise:

  • “It let me relax when…” 
  • “It makes me happy when….”

Instead, choose phrases focused on the recipient, like:

  • “You go out of your way to…”
  • “You’re really good at…” 

This small shift in language puts the focus back on the person you’re showing gratitude for and can make a big impact on helping them feel understood and appreciated.

Managers can create a culture of gratitude 

The employee-manager relationship is critical to the employee experience and a top driver of engagement, so it’s incredibly important for employees to hear from their manager that they’re appreciated. And in doing so, managers can shape more grateful, positive teams. 

But aside from showing gratitude themselves, managers can also open the door for their team members to share more appreciation for each other. Creating more opportunities and spaces to share thanks — and by modeling those behaviors — managers can foster a culture of kindness and gratitude in the workplace.

“‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” – Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple

Spread gratitude in the workplace with 15Five 

Learn how your team can share real-time feedback, manage goals, recognize employees, and more with 15Five’s human-centered platform