Employees need gratitude

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5 min read

According to studies, showing gratitude strengthens relationships, lifts the mood, and increases motivation. So why do so many companies fail to be grateful when it comes to their employees?

After we wrote about gratitude for customers and how to show them how much you care a few weeks ago, we wanted to focus on another group that needs a big Thanks: employees.


  1. Gratitude connects & motivates people
  2. Superiors need to show more gratitude
  3. Don't be scared of being grateful
  4. What can companies do to show gratitude to their employees?

A study from 2019 (Algoe, Dwyer, Younge, Oveis) shows that a "Thank You" has positive ripple effects that spread not just to the person showing and the person receiving gratitude. Even people who witness the act of gratitude will be more helpful to the grateful person and want to spend more time with both people. In short:

Gratitude connects & motivates people

Gratitude at work is therefore immensely important to strengthen relationships in a team, gain trust and feel a sense of pride in your own tasks (and your team's work). In fact, a study by employee platform Glassdoor shows that every second employee will stay longer at their workplace if they feel appreciated. 81% work harder if they see that their work doesn't go unnoticed.

However, nearly two out of three employees don't feel that their superiors really appreciate them (Source: OnePoll via HBR). Many feel that favoritism, lack of communication and recognition from higher-ups often impact relationships between employees and their company.

Superiors need to show more gratitude

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In its own study, HBR uncovered that in hierarchies, people with more power often thank fewer people. Additionally, they also felt less grateful for any favors provided by other people. It pains me to write this but apparently, powerful people ...

"feel more entitled to favors and benefits from others based on their elevated standing in the hierarchy."

This is a problem, since higher power usually means more responsibility for more people who in turn expect gratitude for their efforts to stay loyal and motivated (and, above all: happy).

Don't be scared of being grateful

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However, not everything is lost, because of course, people can learn and adapt. Often enough, being more aware and mindful of favors and support can already change one's attitude regarding showing appreciation. It's also helpful to know, that often, people think that a "Thank You" might be awkward, when it's more than welcome.

In an experiment by Kumar & Epley (via journals.sagepub.com), people expected reactions to signs of gratitude to be much more awkward and negative than they actually were. Apparently, people can sometimes be less forthcoming with expressions of gratitude because they are scared of negative reactions. But the experiment showed that most recipients are positively surprised, especially if they receive gratitude for something that they themselves consider well done.

What can companies do to show gratitude to their employees?

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Unsurprisingly, gratitude for employees can be shown with a salary that fits their contribution to the company. It's 2023, the digital age, and therefore easy for employees to research the benchmarks for their salary to see if they are paid a competitive salary or not.

However, a good salary alone is not sufficient to show gratitude. Just like gratitude alone does not make up for a low salary, a great salary should not be a stand-in for words and actions of gratitude. It's therefore important to make sure that compensation and appreciation go hand in hand.

Perks & Appreciation Programs

Showing appreciation with employee awards and perks can motivate people and support an overall culture of gratefulness in a company. When setting up your perks programs, think from the point of view of your employees: what can you do to make their (work) life better? How can you support them, so they can grow, and what can you do to bring some moments of happiness (e.g., welcome bags, birthday wishes, anniversary celebrations, Christmas presents, team events, etc.).

It is important, that these perks and appreciation programs apply to all employees and are as objective as possible to avoid any implication of favoritism. If done well, though, they can be a highlight for your employees and shine a light on outstanding work, attitude, and team work.


Communication guidelines are not the solution to create a more grateful atmosphere but they can remind people and provide best practices and inform how both general and individual communication can look like to include more gratitude.

Especially with the move to online communication, remote work, and decentralized teams, it's important to give pointers how to express gratitude outside of the office. Lack of time as well as stress can tempt people to give short replies and only provide constructive feedback but there always should be time for an earnest "Thank You" for support, favors, deliveries, etc.

Give time for gratitude

Some companies have specific time slots in meetings to share thanks. With an increased speed in basically all business environments, those moments of celebration and gratitude can sometimes be lost to next steps and evaluation. But they always should be a part of any successful (and unsuccessful) project, so it becomes a "natural" instinct to include thanks in communication, meetings, and other interactions.


Culture is a living and breathing thing that can't be defined by the leadership but the leadership has a big impact on it by their actions and behaviors. It's therefore of utmost importance, that managers show their gratitude to their employees and teams across all hierarchies not just in official communication but also in their day-to-day activities and interactions. As we've established, watching an act of gratitude can inspire and connect, so it's important that everyone leads the way by example.

Find out why purpose is another important aspect to keep employees engaged and motivated. Read our article here.

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by Juliane Waack

Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.

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