Gratitude in the workplace

Michael Boyd

The single most sustainable motivator in the workplace is not money. It is the expression of gratitude.

In organizations where a culture of appreciation thrives, productivity, retention and employee engagement all increase. This is good news for the people who work in the organization and for the corporate bottom line. However, despite there being no downside to creating a culture of gratitude, few organizations make the effort. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65% of Americans reported receiving no recognition during the past year at their work. To really reap the benefits of a culture of gratitude, the effort has to be both intentional and sincere.

According to a recent study on gratitude, “managers need to be specific, personalize the message, deliver it in a timely fashion, and make the thanks equal to the deed.” This requires leadership to pay closer attention to their workforce. The bestselling business book, “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., introduced the concept of MBWA — managing by walking around. Its origins were in the corporate culture at Hewlett-Packard in the ‘70s. Managers were encouraged to wander randomly through the workplace without prearranging their visits. The purpose was to “catch someone doing something right” and to express appreciation to the individual. This practice is intentional, timely and personal. MBWA also requires the manager or supervisor to be tactful. Unannounced visits occasionally reveal workplace conditions or activity that cannot be overlooked.

Being specific and intentional are straightforward and easy to deliver. Sincerity is a different challenge. In the day-to-day operations of any organization, there are misfires and setbacks. It is difficult to be appreciative if revenues are down, profitability is decreasing, deadlines are missed, or any number of negative factors are present.

The reality is that even when conditions are less than favorable, the people doing the work deserve to be recognized for their positive efforts. This is the strategic aspect of cultivating an organizational culture of gratitude. To be effective, it has to start at the top. Training through interactive workshops can help managers develop the techniques that foster the culture of gratitude.

There are several ways that organizations can begin to establish a culture of gratitude:

• Provide feedback: Establish mechanisms for each individual to receive regular individual feedback.

• Show respect: The level to which we are respected has a significant impact on our level of happiness.

• Provide and communicate growth opportunities: Providing opportunities for career enhancement will not only improve your employee’s skill set, it will make them feel valued.

• Have face time: Without regular face-to-face interaction with managers and co-workers, employees can be left to feel removed from the big picture and often times lose sight of their purpose within the organization.

Creating a culture of gratitude in an organization requires commitment from the leadership and a strategic plan. It takes time to plant the seeds and nurture the growth, but the upside is unlimited.

Michael Boyd is the workforce development and business program manager at Hagerstown Community College. His email is