When was the last time you felt truly appreciated (or showed true appreciation) at work? The guru of gratitude, psychologist Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., has demonstrated that expressing and receiving gratitude at work makes people feel happier and more fulfilled, cooperative, motivated, and effective—but we're less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else.
As a doctor who preaches the virtues of gratitude practices—and a business owner who employs a variety of administrative, nursing, and other workers—I'm often looking for new ways to show my fellow workers my appreciation.
Gratitude has been shown to help normalize blood pressure, give us more restful sleep, and even improve sex lives, so adding a healthy dose of it to our workday can do wonders—I mean, think of how many hours we spend in the workplace, after all. Here are some ways to foster more gratitude in your workplace:
1. Start at the top...
It's not surprising that employees need to hear a "thank you" from the boss first—a survey by Glassdoor found that 80 percent of employees would be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss, and 70 percent said they'd feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly. But expressing gratitude can make some people in higher positions feel insecure, inadequate, and or even like they're groveling.
If you're a boss, there's a good way to flip that mental switch: Everyone wants to feel appreciated, so when you thank someone for doing their work well, it makes them happier—and that makes them better at their jobs. Personally, I love showering my employees with gratitude, as it creates a better environment for everyone.
2. ... but those at the bottom have power here too.
If you're an employee struggling to get your boss to open up and give more thanks, there's a trick you can try: When they throw even the smallest possible piece of gratitude your way, thank them for showing their gratitude to you. This rewards a positive behavior you want to see more of. (Hey, what works in dog training can work for bosses too)!
3. At all levels, you can suggest creating a range of opportunities to express gratitude.
Not everyone likes to be openly thanked—or likes to say "thank you"—in public. They may be shy, so the key here is to offer many different kinds of opportunities for expressing gratitude. It's worth figuring out what kind of appreciation works for everyone in your workplace.
- Gift-giving is one way to foster gratitude. Who doesn't appreciate an unexpected gift? And it doesn't have to be a big deal! Send a sweet (but, uh, work-appropriate) email and place a nice piece of fruit on a colleague's desk or offer to cover an hour of work so they can do something nice for themselves.
- You can also create a "Gratitude Wall," where you encourage colleagues to express thankfulness for each other—we're all thankful for doughnuts, for instance, but we should take a moment to thank Kendall, the admin assistant who brings the doughnuts every week. I mean, without her… no doughnuts. And that would be tragic.
- And there are other ways of expressing thankfulness: One of my employees feels most appreciated when I change the office music to her favorite Pandora station (it's subtle, but she loves it).
In the end, this is a way for me to take care of the people who take care of me and my patients, and it builds up the team. Lack of gratitude is a major factor driving job dissatisfaction, turnover, and burnout. But showing your genuine appreciation for the people you work with can be an antidote to workplace frustration and stagnation.
Keep the gratitude real, authentic, and nonroutine, and you'll have a happier place to work in no time. (And yes, you can thank me later.)
Heather Bartos, M.D. is a leading voice in the field of women’s health and wellness. Fascinated by how what we think about affects how we feel, Dr. Bartos teaches women—and women’s families—how to thrive, no matter what their stage of life.