Group of people applauding in a meeting

When’s the last time you were recognized at your job? What immediate feelings did you have when this happened? Whether it’s a simple “thank you” or an office party thrown in your favor, everyone likes to be appreciated. On a surface level, appreciation is good for employee engagement, motivation and retention. Employee recognition and appreciation can also create unique company culture and strengthen employee relationships.

How does workplace appreciation and gratitude bring in these positive effects? Digging deeper, what are the psychological effects concerning appreciation?

There have been numerous studies on the relationship between gratitude and work engagement. Consider this study reported by Harvard Medical School and done by researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania:

“Researchers randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group—assigned to work on a different day—received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.”

What compels employees to act this way? The answer may lie within our brain functions.

A Psychology Today article discusses which areas of the brain are affected by appreciation and gratefulness. The hypothalamus, which controls basic bodily functions such as eating and sleeping, and dopamine, the “reward neurotransmitter” are heavily affected from feelings of gratitude. Alex Korb Ph.D writes, “Gratitude can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle.”

Furthermore, these brain boosts can have significant positive effects in the workplace and in the employee’s work/life balance. Showing gratitude can increase a person’s wellness, increase better sleep habits, increase metabolism and lessen stress. This directly impacts work results and employee interaction. With employee appreciation, you’re not only boosting performance and engagement, but the employee’s well-being and health.

In addition, showing appreciation or gratitude towards co-workers creates more social and prosocial interaction. According to Positive Psychology Program article, “Gratitude is currently one of the hottest topics in positive emotion research. People who participated in gratitude exercises were found to be more prosocial than others.” The Positive Psychology Program defines prosocial as “promoting other’s well being usually through altruistic acts.” By implementing gratitude into company culture, employees are more willing to spread their positive feelings with others, whether it’s helping out with a project or taking time to notice and recognizing those that have gone the extra mile.

Lastly, as mentioned previously, the greatest psychological effect of appreciation and gratitude is the happiness and other emotions immediately felt whether we’re giving or benefiting from. Gratitude creates good feelings, cheerful memories, better self-esteem, feeling more relaxed and more optimistic. All of these emotions creates a pay it forward and “we’re in this together” mentality in the workplace, which in turn, makes your organization more successful. Plus, the dopamine effect will encourage a continuous cycle of recognition if everyone participates. All of these emotions, plus many more, are what most employers want out of their staff to again, create unity.

Now that you have a better understanding on how important appreciation and gratitude are on a personal level and how it directly impacts the workplace, create an appreciation plan that fits your company values, mission, culture and most importantly, something all employees can participate in and benefit from.


O.C. Tanner
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O.C. Tanner, number 40 on the 2015 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list, helps organizations inspire and appreciate great work. Thousands of clients globally use the company’s cloud-based technology, tools, and awards to provide meaningful recognition for their employees.

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