How to create a culture of gratitude at work

It’s not just woo-woo. Being grateful has been scientifically shown to increase personal wellbeing. So how do we apply the magic of gratitude to enhance workplace health?

Gratitude acts on the brain like a happy drug. Its benefits are well established: it releases the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, the happiness regulators, flooding us with warm fuzzy feelings.

And in the longer term, focussing on the positive and turning the attention to others and away from the self gradually creates neural pathways that rewire the brain to be happier, more optimistic and less stressed.

The evidence shows that practicing gratitude works on an organisational health level, too. A 2009 study amongst nurses found that gratitude was consistently linked with less exhaustion and cynicism, more proactive behaviours, higher job satisfaction and fewer absences due to illness.

So how do we use these insights to help us create healthy, happy workplaces?

Recognition programs, often the ‘official’ way for organisations to show appreciation for employees, are not the answer, in my opinion. These usually celebrate the success of an outcome, rather that the process of getting there. The quiet achievers can miss out. The little things – that cumulatively have an outsize influence on the health of the culture – can be overlooked. And they happen too rarely – appreciation must be shown consistently, often and authentically for it to have an impact on culture.

To invite gratitude into the workplace we need to cultivate a gratitude mindset. To look out for those gestures, those little actions that improve someone’s day, make a task easier, bring a moment of joy into the workplace. And to show that those contributions are appreciated.

Start with an open team conversation on how you want to build a culture of appreciation and gratitude. Allow a diversity of thought and ideas to be expressed and let the team decide how they want to receive and give gratitude.  

Here are a few practical ideas for what this might look like.

·      Create a gratitude tree: a tree-shaped outline of a tree on the wall for all the team to stick post-it notes saying ‘thank you’ for the little things that their workmates do for them.

·      Have a regular gratitude morning tea with cake and thanks to each team member for something that they have done that week.

·      As part of your regular team meeting, write in a team gratitude journal to give thanks for something that you are grateful for as a team.

The key is raising mindfulness of the contributions we all make at work every day. Don’t be on automatic pilot. Be mindful of what you’re seeing, hearing and feeling. What is your presence contributing? How do your words and actions contribute to the experience of being at work, to the sense of joy and safety all the team experiences?

With this raised awareness, it becomes natural to appreciate and celebrate the contributions of others. Start sending little thank you notes expressing your gratitude when team-mates offer help, support or kindness. Apart from making the both of you feel good, it could be the start of something. Gratitude is contagious.

I can help you improve the culture at your workplace. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like advice or support in building a positive and psychologically safe workplace for your employees. Contact me by email at, on LinkedIn at or by phone on 0413 145 925.

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