The self-interested case for saying 'thank you' at work more often

Gratitude can trump money when it comes to motivation, experts say

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 12, 2018.

When is the last time you thanked someone? Expressing more gratitude at work is a simple way to get more done, build healthy relationships, and keep your team motivated, Janice Kaplan writes in the Wall Street Journal.

The power of being thankful in the office isn't a secret, Kaplan writes. According to a 2013 survey sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, about 80% of Americans said receiving gratitude motivated them to work harder. Yet, just 10% were grateful to others at work on a daily basis. 

And some research suggests gratitude is a more effective motivator than money. A 2011 literature review of more than 50 studies by the London School of Economics concluded that people give their best effort if their work makes them interested and excited, they feel their work provides purpose and meaning, and if others are appreciative of the work they are doing.

Spurring action

Adam Grant, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino conducted a study that tasked professionals with helping a student with a cover letter. After the first round of advice, the student followed up with a request for help on a second letter: Just 32% said yes. But when students added a line to their second request that read, "Thank you so much! I am really grateful!" the response rate doubled to 66%.

In another experiment, Grant tracked how expressing gratitude affected advisors' response rate to a second request for help—this time from another student. Those who had been thanked enthusiastically said yes 55% of the time, while those who had not only did so 25% of the time.

What's more, Grant's research suggests people who are more generous with colleagues—he calls them "givers"—can excel at the office. Grant found that givers—who offer advice, help, and knowledge, make introductions, and share contacts without angling for a reward—who also are aware of their own needs are often the most successful.

Engaging workers

Take Larry Page—CEO of Google and soon-to-be CEO of Alphabet—who the review site said had the highest approval rating of any chief executive earlier this summer. While Kaplan credits his "likable, low-key style" for his high scores, she also points to Google's focus on appreciating its employees.

One of the company's official "Reasons to Work at Google," she notes, is "We love our employees and we want them to know it."

Google, Kaplan writes, understands that "being appreciated is one of the great motivators on the job, even better than money" (Kaplan, Wall Street Journal, 8/7).

Next: Why your top performers leave—and how to retain them

Join our experts on Friday, April 27 at 1 pm ET where you'll learn a time-efficient and highly-effective tactic for keeping your top-performers in seat: conducting an effective stay interview.

Register Now

Next in the Daily Briefing

Seventy inches of snow and nine months later, Buffalo hospitals see a 'baby boom'

Read now