Thanks for everything! The case for gratitude at work

An illustration of a "Gratitude wall" — a surface where employees have placed various sticky notes with words of thanks and appreciation for their coworkers. For example: "Alex did a great job on the Q3 reports!" and "Big thanks to John for buying plants for the office."

When you think about successful company cultures, what qualities come to mind? Traits like perseverance, innovation, and scrappiness are often touted as the keys to success. But research shows us that “softer” attributes—like gratitude and kindness—can go a long way towards keeping employees happy and loyal. A growing number of businesses are picking up on this, and putting programs in place to let employees show their appreciation for one another. Is this a bandwagon your company should jump on? We say yes. Here’s why—and how.

The impact of gratitude in the workplace

One of the least common places for Americans to express their gratitude is at work. People report concerns that expressing thanks could be seen as a sign of weakness. Others are afraid of inadvertently embarrassing their colleagues. These attitudes might be worth re-examining though, because recent research shows that weaving gratitude into your company culture can be hugely beneficial.

A study out of the University of Melbourne found that gratitude at work can have far-reaching effects on job satisfaction and employee well-being. More specifically, the researchers found that “institutional gratitude” has the most significant impact on employees and a company’s culture. This kind of gratitude is “culturally embedded within the organization, through its people, policies and practices,” in ways that make thankfulness and appreciation “customary features of daily work life.”

In addition to the impact on job satisfaction, the researchers found that when managers show regular gratitude to their direct reports, burnout is less common. They also note that gratitude in the workplace seems to be contagious; the more that gratitude gets expressed and amplified throughout an organization, the more often it’s reciprocated among employees.

Gratitude can also have an impact companies’ bottom lines. When employees feel appreciated, they tend to feel more loyal, which can go a long way towards reducing attrition costs for companies. Organizations that prioritize employee recognition are 12 times more likely to see a positive impact in their business. And the majority of workers agree that a grateful boss is a better boss.

How to get started at your company

Holding a staff meeting to ask employees to start thanking each other more frequently won’t cut it—the key is to embed institutional gratitude in your company’s DNA. And a great place to start is with a “peer bonus” program that allows employees to show each other gratitude with notes and gifts. With these programs, the funding for gifts—as well as logistical support—should come from the company, so it’s easy for employees to exchange messages of gratitude in meaningful ways.

Companies with smaller budgets can try something like a gratitude wall, where a part of the office gets reserved for people to put up sticky notes with messages of thanks for their co-workers. This option comes with a lot of flexibility: It can be anonymous, or people can use names. If you’re tight on space for the sticky notes, a window works just as well as an office refrigerator. And it’s a great way to show appreciation for people who might be uncomfortable with something like a round of applause during a staff meeting.

At Dropbox, we recently implemented a program called the Gratitude Post. Our design team created cards that each feature one of Dropbox’s core values—things that highlight our focus on detail, or working together as a team. Employees can write a message to a co-worker who has done a great job of living one of our values, and the Gratitude Post team will hand-deliver it. Not only is this a great way for employees to show each other gratitude, but by seeing which of the values cards are being used the most, we get interesting data. Coupled with other key insights, including engagement surveys, we can get a better understanding of how our values drive employee happiness.

Does your company have a program in place for employees to show each other gratitude? If not, consider taking the lead on getting one started. It doesn’t have to be expensive—you can make it as simple as sticky notes! And the benefits it will bring to everyone’s workdays are hard to argue with. Dropbox can even help you get started, with quick ways to share your plan or new commenting features to get your team’s input. Check them out here:

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