Gratitude at Work

Why it’s so rare—and powerful—to say thanks

When is the last time you heard (or offered) sincere gratitude at work? Research suggests that people are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else. This is true despite the fact that offering thanks to colleagues and employees has been shown to significantly boost job satisfaction and performance, both for the person expressing gratitude and for the one receiving it.

When I receive thanks from colleagues for the work I'm doing, I feel encouraged and inspired to keep working hard. I can't even begin to tell you how much expressions of gratitude mean to me and keep me energized for the work God has prepared me to do with 4word.

For a Christian, expressing gratitude to others is a natural extension of our gratitude to God. As Bill Peel points out in an article for the Center for Faith & Work, this kind of mindset falls right in line with Paul's "exhortations to render humble service in the workplace (Ephesians 6:5–9; Colossians 3:22–4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12)." Moreover, it's a terrific way to share Christ's love with your colleagues.

The problem with gratitude

It can feel strange—even unprofessional—to be so vulnerable with a colleague.

So why aren't people doing it? I tend to think that it comes down to emotions. Showing real gratitude to another person takes more than just the words thank you. It requires you to really see another person, to connect with him or her, and to acknowledge not just your colleague's accomplishments but him or her as a person. That makes expressing gratitude an emotional act requiring a certain amount of vulnerability on your part.

Any time you start getting emotional and vulnerable at work, there's potential for awkwardness. It can feel strange—even unprofessional—to be so vulnerable with a colleague. Some people are concerned that their gratitude might be perceived as insincere or might be otherwise misinterpreted. Others worry that showing gratitude will make them seem weak. These concerns aren't necessarily unfounded, but you shouldn't let them stop you. Gratitude is a Christian imperative—not to mention it's also a good business practice.

Gratitude guidelines

Here are my top tips for keeping office gratitude appropriate and effective:

1. Keep it professional. There's no rule that says that you have to like everyone you work with equally. (You couldn't, even if you tried!) You're bound to like some people more or feel more comfortable with them than with others, and that's okay. At work, you can't let your gratitude be bound by personal affinities, especially if you're in a managerial role. I've found that gratitude is toughest (and also most powerful) when it is directed toward someone you don't like all that much.

If you want to offer someone thanks, but you're worried that your sentiment will come off as overly emotional or personal rather than professional, I'd prescribe a 24-hour wait time and a good, old-fashioned gut-check. Most things are clearer with the benefit of a night's rest. If something feels "off" to you, it probably is. If you're still uncertain, run it by a trusted friend or mentor before moving forward.

It won't do much good to march around the office at the same time every Friday afternoon offering generic thanks to everyone you work with!

2. Be consistent. As much as you can, offer thanks regularly. Some executives schedule specific times to thank their staff. I don't think you necessarily have to be as regimented as that, but it can be helpful within a busy schedule to set aside some time to think about how to show appreciation to those around you. It's great to offer thanks in the moment, but gratitude is still effective after-the-fact, as long as it is sincerely given.

3. Be sincere and specific. Even if you have scheduled a specific time to devote to your office thank-yous, try not to simply recite "thanks." It won't do much good to march around the office at the same time every Friday afternoon offering generic thanks to everyone you work with! Even if your motivation is heartfelt, people aren't likely to feel appreciated by such a routine. Instead, offer expressions of thanks that are specific and personal.

Start by identifying what action you appreciate, then tie it to the greater value this represents. If appropriate, also mention why it was particularly meaningful to you. For example: "I noticed how hard you've been working on this presentation. Thank you for being so conscientious. I really appreciate how you're helping me and the rest of the team put our best foot forward."

It takes effort and intentionality to express gratitude in an often thankless work environment, but it's worth it. When you choose to express gratitude, your words say so much more than just "thanks." They communicate value, dignity, and a sense of shared purpose. And, ultimately, they reflect your love for Christ.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

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