You're Welcome! 7 Ways to Show Gratitude At Work

Expressing authentic gratitude can change the culture of a workplace.

Expressing authentic gratitude can change the culture of a workplace.

Earlier in my career as a feature writer and columnist on a daily newspaper, the editor-in-chief made a habit of handwriting notes to one or two staff members each day for stories that he thought were exceptional.

Hand-delivered into your mailbox for everyone to see, these brief notes on real stationery sealed in an envelope were a coveted signal that the top dog considered your work to be excellent—at least for that day.

Expressing authentic #gratitude can change the culture of a workplace. #ChangeTheWorkplace

In the one year that editor was there and in charge—before being promoted to the biggest newspaper in the chain– I got three and many others did as well. The culture of the newspaper changed. I never forgot how it felt.

Expressing gratitude for people whom you work with and for, and also who work for you, is an art form that perhaps needs resuscitation at times.

Because Thanksgiving Day is this week, it might be time to consider how you can express gratitude to clients, administrators, customers, peers, bosses, management, donors, suppliers, patrons, support teams and even competitors all year long.

Expressing #gratitude for people whom you work with and for, and also who work for you, is an art form that perhaps needs resuscitation at times. #Thanksgiving

“The more you can train your brain to seek out the good in your business and in life, the more fulfilled you’ll become and the more positivity starts to build around you. It’s always great to be able to prepare for issues before they happen, but you’ve got to be prepared for the good that is coming, too. Start by being able to see the positives instead of just the problems that you can now identify so easily,” Blair Singer writes in Entrepreneur.

Duly noted is that authentic gratitude is quite different from gratuitous shout-outs delivered randomly because thank-you’s are the new mandate.

“Don’t underestimate their need to be recognized and valued (e.g., praise their work, go out to eat, check how their family is doing, ask about their interests, offer training or more challenging work opportunities, involve them in important conversations and decisions). As stated by Dr. Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist and lecturer at Harvard University, ‘In a society that has become so splintered and self-focused, gratitude is a common bond and offers one of the best ways for us to connect with one another,’” writes Michelle Pena in Business Management Daily.

Gratitude attracts great employees and retains them. If you are known as a leader who sincerely appreciates the efforts of her team members by regularly acknowledging great effort, the word will spread. People will want to stay on and be a part of a culture where each persona is seen and heard and noted for her accomplishments and contributions. Michael Kay writes in Inc., “Showing your colleagues you value their hard work and dedication can pay off in the long run. According to an employee appreciation survey by Glassdoor, 53 percent of employees admit they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss.”

#Gratitude attracts great employees and retains them. If you are known as a leader who sincerely appreciates the efforts of her team members by regularly acknowledging great effort, the word will spread.

Understand how rare it is for a workplace culture to express gratitude. Create a new normal. While it is almost unanimous that people feel grateful, a very small percentage of people say they express their gratitude at work to colleagues. Mary Smith Judd writes in MDJ Online, “A 2013 study commissioned by an arm of The University of California, Berkeley, found that 90 percent of Americans feel grateful for certain elements of their lives and believe that demonstrating gratitude is important. Most of us, however, are slow to express our appreciation in the workplace. In fact, current work finished dead last among a list of factors for which respondents felt grateful, with only 39 percent even mentioning it. Only high earners appreciated work, with 62 percent of those earning at least $150,000 expressing gratitude for their jobs.”

Also in the survey, 10 percent of respondents said they express gratitude to their colleagues every day and 60 percent said they express gratitude at work once or never per year.” That’s right, never. “Yet, 81 percent of those polled said they would work harder for a more grateful boss and 93 percent said a grateful boss is more likely to be successful because their subordinates would support them.”

Be grateful even when things go wrong. Projects fail, people make mistakes, clients quit, deadlines pass without completion. But be grateful for the effort, even if the outcomes fall short. Sandra Slager writes in Forbes,  “If an employee falls short of a goal, it may or may not be an error of efficiency or time management. It may even be the fault of management; maybe resources weren’t allocated appropriately. The point is, employees who care about the quality of the work respond better to appreciation than to depreciation. Gracious leaders and managers recognize effort even in the face of a failed initiative.”

You don’t need a trophy or a raise. Yes, bonus checks go a long way and so does an engraved award to place on your desk. But simple notes and public accolades are what are necessary. “Thanking your staff for their work and effort is the purest way to show gratitude. Thanking staff publicly takes your gratitude to the next level. It can be as simple as a public call-out during a team meeting or an email to the group. More so, as a gracious leader or manager, you have the power to create an environment of public praise. Perhaps the biggest upside to leading and managing with gratitude is creating an environment of support, kindness and collaboration that leaves no one feeling alone in a cutthroat environment of competition,” Slager writes.

Write it down. Saying you are grateful at the start of a meeting or the annual holiday gathering is great, but sending written expressions of your gratitude for a specific task or effort is something to keep in the permanent file. So it matters. Steven Moore CEO and Executive Director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, writes in Forbes, “Thank you letters, emails and social posts are wonderful expressions of appreciation — good manners, if you will — but in this digital world, it is more important than ever to find ways to express our gratitude in ways that are personal and impactful. Gratitude becomes a way we live our lives.”  He adds, “Take the time to visit face-to-face with your supporters, and look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’ This can be done at your next board meeting, at a volunteer happy hour or at an individual coffee meeting. An in-person conversation may have as much impact as a dozen donor appreciation letters.”

Gratitude changes you as a person. Being grateful has physical repercussions, changing your mind, body and emotions. All in good ways. LaRae Quy writes in The Ladders,“According to research published in Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates key parts of the brain that regulate stress and produce the sensation of pleasure. If you choose to focus on good things, it will make you a happier person than if you focus on bad things.” She continues, “A study at the University of Kentucky reveals that grateful people are not only kinder, they’re also less aggressive. The more we count our blessings, the more likely we’re able to empathize with other people.”

Gratitude is good for your health. We all know that anger is not good for us, but you may not know the health benefits of being thankful. According to the University of California-Davis Medical Center, “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide,” he said. “Studies have shown that grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project.