Table of Contents

Let’s begin with some gooseflesh. Take a watch.

Money, and perhaps more overtly the barter system that preceded it, are both based on a fundamental matrix of ‘give and take’—the one we cannot always see or touch but can feel very strongly.  

The oldest premise in economics meets the fundamental yearning for proper acknowledgment that exists in all of us, a silent social covenant that glues the community and nature’s flawless way of completing every human interaction and loop equitably.  

If that’s inscrutable, here’s the simpler version: Gratitude is ‘positively’ profitable - and the pun is intended.

Origin and definition of gratitude

So, where does the concept of gratitude come from? The Latin meaning of the word - as was accepted during medieval times - is thankfulness.

Research minds Robert Emmons and Cheryl Crumpler choose to define the term as “an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act.”

The Harvard Medical School puts it as “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives… As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals–whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”. The best part? 

There’s a good chance that you will come up with your very own definition since the act of gratitude carries the power to kindle an almost infinite variety of emotions and emotional nuances.

Most religions place the highest priority on gratitude as a mandatory gesture of expressing gratefulness to a ‘higher power’ for blessings received in material possessions, good health, and cherished relationships in life.

Philosophers from ancient times – iconic visionaries such as Seneca, Cicero, and Adam Smith - have strongly evangelized the importance of the ‘Thank You’, stressing its benefits in a number of ways.

A school of thought categorizes gratitude as a trait (a desirable character or quality to possess). In contrast, another school of thought classifies gratitude as a state of being (a pleasant ‘phase’ to experience).

At its core, though, gratitude remains a sequence of primarily two actions: First, realizing that a ‘Thank You’ is owed, and second, figuring out who the actual recipient is (it’s not always very obvious).

Importance of showing gratitude in the workplace: Amazing facts

There’s plenty in this area.

  • Respect-driven cultures have traditionally shown to be more motivational and stimulating, possessing 26% more energy, resulting in 36% more job satisfaction and driving 44% more commitment amongst employees, workers, and stakeholders.
  • In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, best-selling author Daniel H. Pink explains how kind acknowledgment can trigger a gratitude avalanche: “When you thank someone, it often leads them to think about people they might never have thanked. So, they make their pilgrimage, as eventually do the recipients of their thanks, resulting in a daisy chain of gratitude and contentment.”
  • In its 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. And gratitude, as we shall discuss, is a tested way to boost mental and emotional well-being.
  • GoodThink Cofounder and CEO Shawn Achor waxes eloquent on the ripple effect of appreciation in his New York Times best-selling book Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being. “Praise creates what I call a ‘virtuous cycle’: The more you give, the more you enhance your supply. When done right, praise primes the brain for higher performance, which means that the more we praise, the more success we create. And the more successes there are, the more there is to praise.”
  • Gratitude-filled workers are also more aware of their social and communal responsibilities, making them better organizational citizens who step beyond role boundaries spontaneously, such as supporting peers who are struggling or making new joiners feel more welcome.
  • An Oxford University study tells us that happy souls (happiness is a proven by-product of gratitude) can be 13% more productive.
  • It has been proven that 77 % of consumers like it when businesses demonstrate their appreciation.
  • A study by Glassdoor revealed that 81% of employees were motivated to work harder when the boss expressed appreciation.
And finally, there’s a big irony: A survey of 2,000 people revealed that while 99% of people agree on the importance of gratitude and appreciation at work, in reality, only about 10% practice it on a daily basis.

Why does gratitude work like a charm every single time?

The answer is simple. Relationships are the fundamental structures and pipelines of work and life, and gratitude helps open up, nurture and revive them - allowing for a freer flow of synergy and positivity.

Throughout our hectic lifestyles, these relationship channels and conduits can get clogged up due to the relentless effects of our ego, stressful routines, and toxic cultures.

Looking deeply inwards and finding it in ourselves to be grateful for what we already have - by pausing the chase of things - dissolves that ego releases the stress and lets us rise above ambient toxicity.

This makes us receptive to other people’s existence and importance, reopening the doors of empathy, communication, and trust. And it all starts with the realization that what makes the wheels of enterprise turn is not the capital of money, ideas, or technology, but the invisible one of gratitude which brings out the best of the most potent means of them all is human talent.

Benefits of gratitude in the workplace

Here are the benefits of showing gratitude in the workplace:

  • We become more approachable and friendly, which helps us be perceived favorably, network better and expand our social circles of influence (Here’s Fredrickson’s ‘Broaden And Build’ theory that supports this premise).
  • We are more attentive and reciprocative to other people’s moods and expectations, making for more empathetic interactions and deeper relationships.
  • We are more expressive and communicative and thus present more robust cases for our causes.
  • Gratitude nurtures our brains, too, as this graphic from show:
gratitude and the brain
  • As we become more ‘alive’ and ‘mindful’ of our actions, we become smarter in our thought processes, more courageous when taking big decisions in life, and measurably more productive at work.
  • Gratitude is a proven way to lift one’s mental health and EQ - a goal worth chasing, especially in times of uncertainty and change when moods are perpetually taut. It releases toxic thoughts from our system, helps in stress management, and brings down levels of anxiety and depression.
“It is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same moment”  - Naomi Williams
  • Why just EQ, Gratitude can lift one’s PQ (Physical Quotient – comprising parameters like fitness, pain, cardiac health, sleep cycles, and immunity) by making one more open-minded to outdoor activities and authentic pursuits and physical performance. Take a look!
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.” - Zig Ziglar
  • As we get progressively happy and healthy with higher levels of self-esteem and a benign attitude to our surroundings, we act as a fountainhead of positive energy - spreading cheer and building morale wherever we go.
  • Being grateful is contagious, causing the recipient to pass it forward to others who deserve gratitude from them - setting off a chain reaction that ultimately leads to a culture of positivity.
  • A neuroscientific study has shown that making room for feelings of gratefulness in our hearts can, if practiced over a sustained period, build virtuous and moral qualities such as ethicality, fairness, forgiveness, empathy, and humanity.
  • Perhaps most importantly, gratitude doesn’t just impact the receiver but also the giver – opening up profound doors of personal and professional transformation for both.
quote by oprah winfrey

How does being grateful helps us biologically?

Being grateful causes our brain to release Serotonin and Dopamine. Serotonin is a hormone that stabilizes our emotions, mood swings, and sense of well-being. At the same time, Dopamine is a ‘feel good’ hormone and neurotransmitter that’s a vital part of the brain’s reward functions and generates positive feelings such as happiness.

In a 1988 study by McCraty and colleagues, 45 adults who were taught to ‘cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions’ showed a mean 23% reduction in cortisol levels, which is a hormone associated with high stress and anxiety.

Putting 2 + 1 together, we see a drastic difference between before-gratitude and after-gratitude situations. No wonder Emily Fletcher, founder of popular meditation training hub Ziva, calls gratitude a ‘natural antidepressant’, generating medicine-type effects if adopted regularly.

9 Ways of showing gratitude in the workplace

How to reboot motivation for employees, sales, channels, fleets-on-street, gig force, and partners? The most straightforward answer to this question is gratitude. Here is how:

1. ➡ Before you express gratitude, you need a reason to do so. To build an enabling workplace with free-flowing communication channels, mentoring opportunities, and gamification opportunities to build more avenues for everyone to create a gratitude-worthy (so to speak) impact.

2. ➡ That said, it is equally important to realize that not all ‘gratitude-worthy’ achievements will be milestones warranting their own headline. Sometimes, acknowledging the very existence in another department can go a long way to building good energy. Find the little things and make them big. A thank you note that’s meant from the heart, a ‘personalized’ gift, or just some ‘good old-fashioned catch-up’ over coffee works great.

“Enjoy the little things. For one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” - Robert Brault

3. ➡ gratitude is given wholeheartedly and unreservedly and doesn’t come with strings and disclaimers attached. That is, you cannot express a genuinely heartfelt ‘Truly appreciate it’ and, at the same time, be bitter about something the recipient did (or didn’t do) to you or expect something in return for your gesture. Gratitude is a free-flowing and all-encompassing force that is blind to any other ‘flaw’ in the recipient, leaving only a lingering, warm feeling.

4. ➡ Do not discriminate. If you have expressed your Gratitude to Sales for having ticked a box, apply the same yardstick with your delivery fleets, drivers, and freelancer force, for instance. Favoritism is easily detected and detested and a sure way to undo all the good work you have done up until that point.

5. ➡ gratitude isn’t part of the workplace framework – it IS the framework. This means it cannot be restricted to isolated incidents or one-off R&R nights, but, in the words of Ryan Fehr (Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Washington, Seattle), it’s a consistent habit practiced along with every point of the workflow. Make sure, however, that you don’t force or manipulate your employees into being grateful. That goes against the grain of the very emotion or idea. So while you can certainly consider having a Gratefulness Policy at the HR level, make sure its adoption is gradual and natural.

6. ➡ Customize gratitude. This is obvious and flows from the above point. Don’t have rigid protocols and ‘methods’ in place for expressing gratitude. Let people choose and pick their ways to show theirs. Gratitude isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you need to both (A) find your language to express it best and (B) Make sure it fits with the gravity and significance of the occasion and matches the feeling and personality of the recipient.

7. ➡ Evangelize gratitude whenever you can. Make sure the top management drives it ‘top down’ at every given opportunity. The former CEO of Campbell Soup is famous for having written 30,000 thank you notes to his employees. Make sure your most passionate employees and brand ambassadors bring it up in their interactions and conversations – both offline and online. Carry out engaging campaigns and fun activations in the workplace around it. Turn it into a ‘thing’.

8. ➡ Stay patient. In his famous agricultural analogy, G.K. Chesterton argued that the effects of gratitude, much like true happiness, take time to ‘blossom’ after one has planted its seeds. One needs to follow the practice doggedly over the years before working its true magic.

9. ➡ Simple acts like maintaining a gratitude document, sharing surprise hugs and bravos, and recognizing everyday acts (be it privately or in public) go a long way to seed a consciousness of gratitude.

Try it. It can bring on the gooseflesh.

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Manoj Agarwal

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Manoj Agarwal is the Co-Founder and CPO at Xoxoday. He is an MBA from IIM Kozhikode comes with 14 years of experience in building companies, technology, product, marketing, & business excellence.