A call for corporate empathy: Gratitude in the workplace

“Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilling life.” — Jack Canfield, American author and motivational speaker

Most conversations in large organisations around gratitude start and end with a pat on the back to prove they have a caring company culture. However, unfortunately, compassion, forgiveness, caring and thankfulness have been found to be missing from many work environments, no matter if they are a non-profit, a corporation or an educational institution. 

In Western culture, there’s a common fallacy that economic wealth equals happiness. Recent studies have shown that 70 percent of employees are not engaged at work and 45 percent don’t even like their jobs. According to a Harvard University and Wharton study, just a simple thank you from your boss can boost your productivity by 50 percent. 

Gratitude as a metric

The pursuit of happiness can often become an obsession. However, in the workplace the ability to be happy can mean more, particularly as often spend more time with colleagues than our family and friends.

Research from the John Templeton Foundation revealed that people are less likely to express gratitude in the workplace than anywhere else. The need for feeling a sense of gratitude in the office goes beyond smiling, a thumbs up or a pat on the back. People want to feel like they belong and nothing is more rewarding than a display of authentic gratitude. 

Professor Dacher Keltner echoes these thoughts in his book Born to be Good and suggests that there is a bigger dimension to creating an environment that supports the social need to belong through gratitude. When gratitude is applied to an organisation in an authentic way, it can strengthen our relationships and improve mental health. In other studies, gratitude was shown to motivate us to achieve our goals and to boost feeling of satisfaction, in and out of the work environment.

Sparking change

What will it take for gratitude to be acknowledged in the workplace?

A community!

I’m a member of OpenIDEO’s London Chapter, a team of creatives, doers and innovators using human-centred design to solve tough social challenges. We’ve partnered with Vodafone, a British multinational telecommunications company, to tackle this problem head on.

The complexity of modern-day business can make it tricky to create an environment where thankfulness can thrive. Organisations adopting a quick fix by offering financial incentives for expressing gratitude and being nice do little to inspire authentic gratitude with real impact. These approaches only hide the problem and over time the issue will inevitably come up again. 

“The solution is to double down on being human.” — Jaron Lanier, American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer of classical music

Designing a solution with the employee in mind

We started with the brief: ‘How might we inspire experiences and cultivate expressions of gratitude in the workplace?’

We’re taking a more human-centred approach to understanding how to design a solution that meets the employees’ needs and goes beyond a quick fix.

Our mission is to close the gratitude gap for Vodafone employees. By empowering and involving them in building the solution at every stage, we will ensure the end result is right for them and will have real impact. Throughout the project we will always ensure that Vodafone is seen as a true partner, not just a client. This relationship is key to getting buy-in from employees at all levels and also getting to the heart of the problem to develop insight.

We’re starting with a questionnaire to understand how Vodafone employees experience gratitude at work and a series of one-to-one Skype interviews. Then, we will lead an ideation session to co-create a solution based on research and insights gathered. This approach to tackling gratitude in the workplace will give us with a human-centred advantage, paving the way for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. 

Are you ready for a company culture of collective gratitude?

In order to build a supportive work environment that is inclusive, healthy, positive and engaging for your employees, gratitude is a must rather than a nice-to-have. Professor Robert Emmons, author of The Little Book of Gratitude, supports the notion that gratitude has become critical to workplace wellbeing and trumps the use of financial incentives that can backfire if not used correctly.

You can build this kind of collective gratitude through:

  • everyday mindfulness practices
  • building emotional and social engagement for the colleagues you encounter everyday
  • getting buy-in from leaders and employees by making them apart of the gratefulness journey.

To learn how we designed the solution with the support of Vodafone, please read our submission.

How did you develop a gratitude program at your work? Please share your comments in the story below!

A huge thanks to the whole team especially, Flick Hardingham, Challenge Lead and our direct partner Diego Groiso, Business Consultant at Vodafone. As guest contributor to this piece, Daniel Tuitt writes, talks, lives and inspires all things creative, business design and co-innovation.

More on Gratitude in the Workplace:

 Image: Simon Maage on UnSplash open source photos

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This article is written by Daniel Tuitt on February 26th 2018.