We all know how great it feels to receive a thank you, but gratitude is much more than that. In the workplace, a culture of gratitude – that is, regularly demonstrating kindness and understanding – has been shown to increase the positive hormones in your body including serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin resulting in improved levels of closeness, connection and happiness.

Gratitude and empathy in the workplace are essential, as it directly connects to employee motivation and achievement. In fact, a 2013 survey by Glassdoor explained that more than 80% of employees are motivated to work harder when they are appreciated for their work. Even more importantly, the same survey suggests that 53% of employees would have stayed in their positions for longer had they felt more appreciated. So, if employee retention and motivation are so tightly tied to a culture of gratitude, you are probably wondering how you can foster a workplace culture?

Well, gratitude is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness.” In addition, empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” These two ideas go hand-in-hand when developing a workplace that is focused on being grateful. What I am drawn to most about these definitions is the idea of reciprocation. Gratitude is showing and returning kindness; empathy is sharing the feelings of others with the hope they are returned.

This suggests that a workplace culture of gratitude is based on building strong, reciprocal relationships between employers and employees. There are practical steps that both sides can take, and I have listed three actions both sides can undertake to encourage cultures of gratitude.


Although employees certainly have a large role to play, gratitude really needs to begin with managers and leaders in the workplace. As a leader, you have a responsibility to act as a role model for employees, and create a positive environment where employees feel valued, safe to take chances, and secure in their positions. So, what can you do to create this environment?

  • The first thing leaders and bosses can do is celebrate more than just empirical success. It is easy to celebrate when a team has outperformed their last sales quarter or landed a big client, but celebrating the small wins is just as important. Thanking employees for taking initiative or for completing those seemingly mundane but important tasks regularly is key.
  • Another aspect that managers need to focus on is thanking under-recognized groups. Perhaps it is the caretakers of your building, the administration aids, or even the IT personnel. These people are integral to the workplace, yet because they are not the ‘stars’ of the team, they often go unnoticed. By taking a moment to thank them, you model to other employees to do the same, thereby fostering gratitude from the top of the company.
  • Employers can also create monthly “gratitude huddles” or employee gratitude programs. Whether its employee of the month, small meetings to shout out gratitude, or little thank you cards around the office, these small measures say a lot about the type of culture you support as an employer, so make it count!


As an employee, it is equally important to foster a culture of gratitude. Your working relationships, chances for advancement and performance results depend on it. While your boss certainly has a key role to play, you must do everything in your power to reciprocate, and in some cases create gratitude in your workplace.

  • The first thing you can do to show gratitude as an employee is participate in the rituals. Every office is different, but every office also has small rituals of gratefulness. Whether this is a monthly cake date for the birthdays, retirement parties, lunchtime seminars etc. your workplace is showing gratitude – so be sure to attend these events whenever possible. Be there and foster relationships, say thank you for the effort. These little acts are important, so be there for them.
  • Showing empathy is essential as a co-worker. We all have our lives, and with them come different stressors. If a fellow co-worker isn’t performing at their highest potential, offer to help instead of calling them out. Say thank you for what they are doing and encourage more. This will help you build relationships, and when you have an off day, it may help you be a little more grateful when given the same in return.
  • Thank your superiors. This one is essential; if you expect your boss and leaders to show gratitude for you, then it must be returned.  A simple, but genuine thank you for the guidance, an explanation or even just returning an email can go a long way to developing a reciprocal relationship of gratitude between upper management and employees.

For everyone:

Finally, the most important step for everyone in a workplace is to be genuine. Do not just participate in a culture of gratitude because you must, do it because you want to and you are genuinely grateful for the people you work with, the opportunities you are given and the work you are doing. It isn’t always easy, but just by being a little more grateful you can positively influence the world, or at least the workplace you’re currently in, for the better.

It all starts with consistent practice in the form of small steps!