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The Science of Gratitude in the Workplace

Presented by: Lisa Ryan

Mother Teresa once said that “We are more starved for appreciation than we are for bread.” Gratitude is an essential human requirement – not only at home but also in the workplace.


When employees don't feel appreciated, it leads to job dissatisfaction, employee turnover, absenteeism, and burnout - all of which can be quite costly to the bottom line. When gratitude is part of the culture, employees are more sensitive toward others and are less likely to seek revenge or retaliate when given negative feedback.


Here are three ways that the science of gratitude supports business.


  1. It strengthens teams. When colleagues are in the habit of acknowledging each other's efforts, it creates harmony and mutual respect. Marcial Losada found that a 6:1 (six positive remarks for every one negative response) positivity ratio leads to high-performing teams. Unfortunately, many managers focus on what needs to be “fixed” rather than what’s working well. When the positivity ratio is at 3:1 – three positives for every one negative, there’s a neutral effect. Employees do only what they’re supposed to do, nothing more. On the opposite end of the scale, when employees receive three NEGATIVES for every one positive, there is a profound negative impact on their morale and on the business.


  1. It leads to reciprocity. Gratitude researcher Dr. Robert Emmons found that "Gratitude is not only a response to kindnesses received, but it is also a motivator of future benevolent actions on the part of the recipient. Each kindness received motivates future kindnesses on the part of the recipient." This is not to say that gratitude is an IOU. When gratitude comes from a place of sincerity, it benefits all parties.


  1. It's a better motivator than money. Researchers from the London School of Economics revealed that financial incentives could backfire when motivating employees. Another study by Glassdoor found that 80% of employees would be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss, and 70% said they'd feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly. 


While employee recognition programs are an excellent way to show appreciation to your employees, adding consistent micro-expressions of gratitude - like saying thank you - are easier and can be given more frequently. 


When you focus on catching your employees in the act of doing things well, instead of harping on what’s wrong, you will increase productivity, profitability and create a workplace culture that works.

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