How Gratitude in the Workplace Strengthens Company Culture

/ Christine Andrukonis

While the Thanksgiving holiday is a friendly reminder to think about what we feel lucky to have, expressing gratitude in the workplace is a year-round way to strengthen company culture. This year has definitely thrown everyone a curveball, as we all navigated crisis communication, remote work and difficulty with work/life balance, but there have likely been silver linings as well. Like an employee who has gone above and beyond to make changes more manageable for their teams. Or a client who has been a true thought-partner through all of 2020’s surprises. It’s essential to take a (much-needed!) pause to reflect on the critical people who have made this lap around the sun a little brighter — and to encourage your team to do the same.

We spoke with psychologists to discover the benefits of gratitude for organizations. Plus, we share ideas on how to start the chain-reaction of kindness.

It creates a more positive work environment. 

Whether you’re in the middle of a global pandemic or not, building morale is part of a leader’s list of deliverables. During happy times, when your business is excelling, it’s an easier task. But in the challenging times, it’s not as simple. One way to recognize employees and boost spirits is through gratitude. As industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. explains, when a leader expresses gratitude with specific, concrete examples, it illustrates appreciation. “By doing so, others feel valued, and a greater sense of community and company culture is established.” In the best-case scenario, by sharing your thankfulness, the team member feels valued and continues the trend to their direct-reports, and so on. All of these good vibes create a better, happier place to work.

It builds connections and strengthens teams.

When leadership displays gratitude to colleagues and employees, it lets people feel more comfortable being vulnerable, which translates into more authentic relationships, according to therapist Hanna Stensby, M.A. These bonds are integral to company culture since they build a foundation of synergy, rather than one of competition or shame. When those at the top of your organization encourage every manager at every level to express thankfulness, team members will all feel accepted and appreciated, resulting in the kind of cohesiveness that moves mountains. “It highlights the idea that colleagues are part of a larger team. A culture of support will make employees more likely to take creative risks and reach their full potential,” Stensby continues. “By combating shame and increasing creativity, gratitude will improve the experience and performance of both the leader, their employees, and colleagues.”

It keeps leaders grounded. 

The most effective leaders aren’t the ones who take credit for every milestone or achievement. Instead, they are the ones who know how to recognize employees, colleagues, and clients by celebrating joint success and contribution. As Hakim puts it, a ritual of gratitude keeps leaders grounded and prevents them from becoming self-absorbed or narrow-minded. “True leaders take note of those who help them and the organization. They share this feedback sincerely and consistently, gaining loyal followers along the way,” she adds. By putting company culture above ego, you send a clear example to the rest of the company about the importance of working cohesively and respectfully together.

It cultivates joy, increases motivation and reduces burnout. 

Telling someone the reasons you are thankful to have them in your professional life isn’t just a way to make them smile, but it has a positive impact on your psyche, too. As Stensby explains, a gratitude practice cultivates joy as it trains the brain to identify the abundance that exists. “The joy that is experienced as a result of gratitude will connect employees to their motivation for their work, increasing their productivity and quality of work,” she adds.

In return, organizations will see a reduction in burnout and turnover since employees feel supported by leadership and connected to the meaning of their work. “When this type of gratitude practice begins with leadership, it sets the tone for the rest of the organization,” Stensby continues. “These feelings of motivation and joy lead to fulfillment and a sustainable work environment. If employees see their peers doing fulfilling work with an expression of gratitude, they are more likely to invest themselves in their work and stay at the company longer.”

It builds authentic relationships with clients. 

It seems obvious, but people want to work with good people. And when you share genuine gratitude with your clients, you bring authenticity to the working dynamic. It humanizes and emphasizes the value of the project and the work you’re doing together. “Expressing gratitude brings the client and professional together in a mutually beneficial relationship which establishes a sense of community,” Stensby shares. “When clients feel valued and connected to the organization, they are more likely to provide referrals and have brand loyalty.”

Need some ideas on expressing gratitude? Here are some ideas on how to recognize employees, colleagues, clients, and more:

How to recognize employees.

They show up, they step up, and they keep the organization running and growing. Ensure they feel heard, valued and appreciated through these gestures:

  • Give one day of gratitude off. And we mean 100-percent off — no emails send their way, no last-minute meeting, nothing. When you offer an additional day of paid-time-off, explain why you are thankful for their dedication and contributions.
  • Ask managers to handwrite a ‘thank you’ card to each of their direct-reports and provide a budget for sending them. If your finances allow, a small amount gift card is a sweet addition, too.

How to recognize colleagues. 

Fellow leaders in your organization guide change, progress and company culture. They help you make challenging decisions, support you through the down periods and celebrate the big and small wins. In other words: you couldn’t do it without them. Here’s how to show them just that:

  • Create or purchase a curated box of their favorite things. Think: a nice bottle of red wine, artisanal cheese and chocolates, a chew toy for their dog, or a coffee mug with a funny saying. Make sure everything in the gift is catered specifically to their interests. This shows how well you know him or her — and that you pay attention to what matters the most in their life.
  • Schedule a one-on-one catch-up, and tell them virtually face-to-face how lucky you are to have them on your team. Verbal communication, especially in this manner, may feel uncomfortable at first, but the personal recognition will go a long way in expressing gratitude. (A nice bonus to match this chat is ideal, too!)

How to recognize clients.

While maintaining professionalism is essential, of course, a sincere message of gratitude toward your clients will set you apart from other organizations. It can show how much you value your partnership and pave the road to a continued relationship next year.

  • Send out the corporate holiday card — but handwrite a note to each client. Many organizations send out an annual letter to their clients, vendors, contractors and friends. But, go the extra mile and write a few sentences about specific reasons you are thrilled to be working together.
  • Write a thoughtful email. In an age where everyone is connected digitally, email is still a meaningful way to communicate. In fact, with remote working, a personal email from you to the client will speak volumes of your kindness and instill confidence. Block your calendar, so you make time to think critically and provide examples and personalized sentiments.

How to recognize yourself.

Yes, you! You should definitely be giving yourself a pat on the back for making it through 2020. And you should make sure you dedicate at least some time to self-care before the end of the year. Here are some ways to express gratitude to yourself:

  • Take time off. You may feel pressured to work 24/7, especially when you’re stuck at home, but it’s vital to take time to disconnect and rejuvenate. Even if you only manage to make it a day, put up your out-of-office, turn off your phone and tune-out of work.
  • Make morning time me-time. The most successful leaders have a gratitude practice that starts in the A.M. If you haven’t already, make a goal of creating a morning routine that prepares you for the day by fulfilling your spirit. It might be a workout, playing with your dog or toddlers, or some other form of mindfulness — but the goal is to make space for your personal needs.