Work Smarter//

The Important Benefits of Being Grateful at Work

How gratitude in the workplace can spark teamwork and camaraderie.

Kunnapat Jitjumsri / EyeEm/Getty Images
Kunnapat Jitjumsri / EyeEm/Getty Images

A few years ago, I was talking to Erica Fox, who at the time was the Head of Learning Programs at Google. I had partnered with her and her team quite a lot over the years, delivering seminars for Google employees around the world. After attending one of my seminars, she came up with an idea of how to engage her direct reports in a positive way. Since she was leading a remote team of people who were located in various cities, it was challenging for them to connect in a personal way. Even with the use of Google’s state-of-the-art video-conference technology, there’s nothing quite like being in the same room. And as anyone who leads or is part of a team that is distributed across multiple locations knows, it can be difficult to connect effectively and personally via conference call or video conference.

During her next weekly meeting, Erica asked each of her team members to share something they were grateful for from the previous week — it could be something work related or something personal, so long as it was something that they genuinely felt grateful about. She asked them not only to share this verbally with their teammates, but also to write down what they were grateful for on a Post-it note and stick it somewhere out of sight in their work- space (like inside a folder or desk drawer). She thought it would be fun for them to find the Post-it note again sometime later and be reminded of the positive thing they were grateful for that they shared with the team.

The exercise was fun and set a nice tone for their weekly team meeting that day. It allowed people to connect with one another in a more personal and positive way, even though they weren’t all sitting in the same room together. It went so well the first time she tried it, she decided to do it again the following week. Some of the people on her team were more into it than others, which is often the case for things like this. She did it a third time in their next weekly meeting. She decided not to do it the following week because she thought it might be getting a little old, and she wasn’t sure if the people on her team were all that into it. But when she started that next meeting without doing the gratitude exercise, to her surprise a number of her people got upset. They had been ready with their Post-it notes and had already planned what they were going to share. So she decided to do the exercise again that week and made it a standard practice for her subsequent weekly team meetings, which helped improve their personal connection and team culture even though they didn’t all work together in the same location.

Erica later told me, “In addition to generating a practice/routine of appreciation, it also allowed us to share more about ourselves (in small bits) with each other, which ultimately led us to more openness, vulnerability, and safety within our team. And these things invariably led to better work results as well.” She continued, “An unintended outcome of this gratitude practice was that people became more comfortable sharing small ops eventually. We had a standing team-meeting agenda item that was called ‘milestones, celebrations, and fantastic flops.’”

These types of activities and practices matter for teams. Kim Cameron and some of his colleagues at the University of Michigan published a research article in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science that found that a workplace characterized by positive practices like the one Erica did with her team at Google can help people excel in a variety of ways.

Cameron and his colleagues theorized that the three main reasons these types of practices benefit teams and companies are that they:

  • Increase positive emotions that broaden people’s resources by improving their relationships with their colleagues and by amplifying their creativity.
  • Buffer against negative events like stress or failure, improving people’s ability to bounce back from challenges.
  • Attract and bolster employees, making them more loyal and bringing out their best.

There are also benefits to the bottom line. Cameron et al. summarized their findings by saying, “When organizations institute positive, virtuous practices they achieve significantly higher levels of organizational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, and productivity.”

This is an excerpt from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.

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