Jennifer Dennard

How to build a culture of gratitude

Gratitude is extremely powerful when done well

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We’ve all been there: that feeling when someone says thank you but all you hear

is "your work doesn’t really matter." It shows up with the infamous “tx” after

that late-night email thread. Or the after-meeting “thanks” with absolutely,

positively no eye contact. Or the thank you that was never actually stated—they

just assumed you knew.

Inauthentic gratitude is awful. I swear, you can almost _hear_ the souls being

sucked away. 😱

But here’s the thing: gratitude is incredibly powerful when it’s done well.

Gratitude is shown to have big benefits for your personal health:

increasing positive emotions, heightening life satisfaction, and lowering

"negative" emotions like depression, anxiety, and envy. It kind of sounds like a

miracle drug, right? ✨

And for companies, these benefits are even more impactful. Gratitude at work increases job satisfaction

and creates an environment where employees act as good

citizens, working

towards the common good, not just individual success. And, gratitude is

powerful in building trust

which leads to cultural resilience when a team hits harder times.

So, how can we express gratitude in a meaningful way? How do we build a culture

of gratitude so expressing gratitude is easy?

Make gratitude personal

It’s easy to think that gratitude should be oriented around the company as a

whole or around team efforts, but cultures of gratitude start at the individual level. First, individual

employees experience gratitude around events. For example, small moments in time

where they give or receive gratitude. From there, individuals start to build a

mindset of gratitude — what researchers call "persistent

gratitude."

And this is where it gets good: persistent gratitude in individuals is what

creates the collective, company-wide mindset and culture of gratitude. This

works because gratitude is inherently

relational — you

show appreciation for someone else, which builds a stronger relationship. As

this happens repeatedly across a company, the network of relationships built on

gratitude grows.

What does this mean in practice? Share individual, personalized gratitude with

your team. Being personal is important because people give and receive gratitude

in different ways (a la the 5 Love

Languages).

I recently polled my own team to ask how they prefer to be thanked and got

myriad answers ranging from handwritten thank-you notes to having someone show

attention to them or having their experience and learnings be clearly valued. So

if you want your teammate to feel the gratitude you have for their work, you

need to be mindful of how they want to receive it. Asking them is the easiest

way to find out.

Make gratitude frequent

Counter to conventional wisdom that gratitude is only meaningful
when it’s scarce, gratitude is most impactful when it’s "[frequent and
intense](https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/amr.2014.0374)."

Research into emotions, including gratitude, shows that high-intensity and

frequent expressions

have

the most impact. This lines up with research on feedback that shows the amount

of positive feedback should far outweigh the amount of constructive feedback.

In practice, you have to make gratitude a habit, so it happens frequently and

isn’t heavyweight for you or your team. Companies often implement lightweight

gratitude through systems for shoutouts or peer bonuses.

At the team level, a daily process for gratitude helps your team build a habit

and ensure that gratitude is a frequent occurrence. At Range we build gratitude

into our daily written standups by including "Thanks" shoutouts as moments of

recognition.

Take time to reflect on gratitude

When researching this post, one of the most surprising things I learned was that

gratitude gets more powerful when you ruminate on it. We often think about

rumination through a negative light. Late-night anxiety ruminations are never

fun. But revisiting positive emotions can be helpful.

The more you reflect on and bask in your positive emotions, like gratitude, the

more you experience them. And

for teams, the more you reflect on the gratitude you’ve shared, the more the

team will feel gratitude, creating a positive cycle.

Weekly team meetings or retrospectives are a great opportunity to reflect on the

gratitude that was shared throughout the week. In meetings, you can take a

moment to go into more depth about the gratitude you feel towards a teammate.


The benefits of expressing gratitude can’t be overstated. A team that has a

culture of gratitude works better together, supports one another’s work, and

doesn't focus on transactional interactions.

As the research on gratitude grows, we’re only learning more about its positive

impact and the benefits that teams and companies can reap from building a

culture of gratitude.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear how you and your team share

gratitude. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @upstartgirl.

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