Use gratitude to enhance employee engagement

Sarah Hamilton discusses the power of gratitude in the workplace with Alan Hosking.

What, do you think, has prompted the rise of gratitude being used in the business world?

More and more companies are now realizing the powerful business impact of gratitude. In a world where companies are battling competition and struggling to engage and retain talent, using gratitude in the workplace is more critical than ever. In fact, new data from the 2019 Workhuman Analytics and Research Institute (WARI) report, The Future of Work is Human, shows that giving thanks not only makes employees feel more appreciated and included, it can also improve workplace culture and benefit the bottom-line. 

 Voluntary turnover is costly. A positive employee experience correlates to better work performance; and when employees are happy, they are less likely to leave their organization. Gratitude can also be a key to building resilience and buffering against pressures in the workplace. Companies ultimately benefit when they appeal to their employees’ emotional connection to their work and show appreciation.

How does one position gratitude in a hard-nosed business environment in such a way that it doesn’t appear too touch-feely or patronising?

Expressing gratitude in the workplace should start with company leaders. When leaders are in the habit of expressing frequent and widespread expressions of recognition and appreciation, others throughout the organization will feel inspired to emulate that behavior. The power of a simple “thank you” can carry significant weight in the workplace, whether it is in-person, or through email or a social recognition program. Everyone wants to feel recognized and appreciated, and practicing this in the office year-round directly correlates with increased retention rates and employee engagement. 

Gratitude in the workplace doesn’t need to be approached through a purely emotional lens – it could be something as practical as identifying something someone did well and recognizing their hard work and results. This type of recognition is appreciated in all environments, from those that are more relaxed to a hard-nosed business. 

How can gratitude be used as a powerful business tool to enhance engagement and performance?

Gratitude and recognition go hand in hand. Specific findings from the new WARI report show that, when everyone can recognize good work, levels of belonging increase across the board (87% when recognized by everyone, 72% when recognized by managers, and 68% when recognized by senior leaders.) According to the in-depth 2019 Global Happiness and Well-Being Policy Report, the Global Happiness Council estimated that “a meaningful increase in well-being” yields, on average, about a 10% increase in productivity. When we recognize one another, it inspires the person we’ve thanked to give that feeling to someone else and also motivates them to work harder, leading to increased morale, energy and engagement – all of which directly influence performance, productivity, and retention.

Implementing an employee recognition program is a helpful way for companies to build a culture of gratitude in the workplace. Social recognition empowers peers to reward each other, and builds strong teams and departments. Employee recognition data also provides helpful insights into which departments have less engaged people, and points out where more support and gratitude is needed. In order to succeed in this new world of business, knowing who the most committed employees are and knowing where to improve is vital. 

Making work “more human” is the key to retaining employees and fulfilling the innate need to be seen, valued, appreciated and feel a sense of connection with others. By shifting focus towards behaviors, values and programs that connect people, companies create a sustainable competitive business advantage. Organizations in the top 25% of employee experience have 3 times the return on assets and more than twice the return on sales, compared to companies in the bottom 25%.

Could you suggest a few effective/appropriate ways of conveying gratitude?

Start with, “Thank you.” Saying this often starts a gratitude cycle that inspires human connections and more collaboration and engagement across the organization. Be on the lookout for moments of appreciation and look beyond ‘big wins’ to recognize smaller contributions that also deserve recognition. 

 Leaders should encourage employees to recognize fellow colleagues. Rewarding employees who express their gratitude often may inspire others to follow their lead. Making, “Thank you,” a regular habit helps generate positive momentum. Recent, frequent recognition in the workplace is also associated with higher gratitude levels and lower stress levels. Data from the WARI report also indicates that frequent recognition helps build trust, and employees who express gratitude in the workplace are 26% more likely to trust their company’s senior leadership team than workers who have ever expressed gratitude at work.

How could one turn gratitude into a two-way street?

While we often think about recognition from the perspective of the employee who receives the positive reinforcement, it’s just as important to look at that moment of recognition through the lens of the giver. The act of giving recognition can be an even more transformative experience than the act of receiving it.

When you thank someone, it often leads them to consider whom they might never have thanked, thus creating a cycle of gratitude. When showing gratitude is part of the workplace culture and employees are rewarded for expressing appreciation, more people feel encouraged to pay it forward.  

Sarah Hamilton is the Senior Director of HR for Workhuman, the world’s fastest-growing integrated Social Recognition® and continuous performance management platform, in Waltham, Massachusetts. She has a BS Degree in Psychology from Bridgewater State University.

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