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Why Practice Gratitude at Work

May 06, 2021

Why Practice Gratitude at Work

While Americans are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else, it's sorely needed - especially in health care. Associate professor/lecturer of social work Trinh Mai explains the importance of gratitude and shares tips for incorporating it into your routine.

Trinh Mai

Dec. 7, 2018

Gratitude feeds essential needs for human connection, including our need to be recognized, valued and appreciated by one another. When these needs are met, we are inspired and motivated to do great things. Research has found that workers thrive in a culture of gratitude, resulting in higher personal investment, quality of performance, trust and team work, more job satisfaction and less burn out.

And the reverse is true—if people do not feel appreciated, they tend to search for it somewhere else; the Department of Labor cites this as the number one reason for people leaving their jobs.

Yet, this type of culture doesn't happen without intentional effort. A survey of 2000 Americans commissioned by the Templeton Foundation in 2013 learned that even though gratitude was valued, Americans were less likely to express gratitude at their workplace than anywhere else.

Tips for practice

Some tips to guide your effort based on gratitude science:

  1. Start at the top. Research shows that leaders need to set the tone and model gratitude if they want to build such a culture at their organization.
  2. Involve everyone year round. Create opportunities for staff and stakeholders of all levels to participate voluntarily as receivers and givers of thanks.
  3. Thanks doesn't have to be big. It can be given for big or small things, for the work and process as well as for the end product.
  4. Be authentic. People are touched by genuine, personal words and gestures of thanks; a standard, general thank you to everyone does not have the same impact for the giver or receiver. It's like a participation trophy.

Examples of gratitude practice

Recognizing each other counts too.

Research indicates that thanking your colleagues publically increases engagement and decreases turnover. University of Utah Health has a homegrown way to recognize the hard work of your peers, visible to all in Pulse: Recognize Great Work .

  • Public expression & celebration of employees: at staff meetings, thank you wall or gratitude tree made of thank you notesand cards, online platforms, awards
  • Private communication: a letter, a card, a verbal exchange, a gift, include gratitude as part of the yearly evaluation
  • Ask and integrate employees' diverse input, skills and talents
  • Personal connection: taking a minute to connect with people personally, scheduling time for having fun together
  • Professional development: trainings, opportunities to take on new roles or projects
  • Express gratitude before or after a stressful encounter. Taking time to reflect on how people can endure and overcome together does wonders for growth and morale

How gratitude works in a system

Gratitude is individually beneficial and also increases the resilience of teams. I recently saw a great example of gratitude in action at the October meeting of the Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Faculty. Dr. David Steinberg, Chief of the Division, started the meeting by expressing verbal gratitude and giving a Starbuck's gift card to two faculty members, one for going beyond the call of duty, and one for having endured a challenging period of time at her clinic. He then invited someone from the team to express gratitude and hand out the third gift card. Their administrative staff received the third thank you of the night. I was only a guest in the meeting, and yet I felt a shot of warm, positive feeling from simply witnessing this exchange.

As we begin a holiday season of giving thanks, there is no better time to invest in giving the gift of gratitude, a gift of wellness that does not need to come with a high price tag.

For more information regarding Mindfulness classes, the Resiliency Center, or related topics please visit:


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Trinh Mai

LCSW, Mindfulness Educator & Social Worker with the Resiliency Center & Wellness & Integrative Health, University of Utah Health