Work Life
August 17, 2023

The Scientific Benefits of Gratitude in the Workplace

This is some text inside of a div block.
Get Started with Awardco
Get a Demo

Pandemics, global conflicts, inflation, recession, layoffs, burnout, high turnover rates, dissatisfaction. These are all issues that the modern business and employee has to deal with. While that list may seem intimidating, what if we told you there was one thing that could combat nearly all of it?


That’s right, something as simple as showing more gratitude can have a domino effect that increases motivation, productivity, happiness, and satisfaction, and at the same time, lowers stress, reduces turnover, and decreases burnout. Let’s look at the science of gratitude to get started.

How Does Gratitude Change Your Brain?

One of the ways being grateful changes your brain is through positive recall bias. When you focus on the good, positive things around you, it becomes easier and easier to recognize the good things in your life, even during hard or stressful times. Gratitude helps you focus on the positives, which increases happiness, optimism, and other positive emotions.

On a more scientific level, gratitude can strengthen the neural pathways in your brain that produce serotonin and dopamine. That means your brain more easily and more naturally produces those two “feel good” chemicals, which leads to a whole host of both physical and psychological benefits.

The best part is, both giving and receiving gratitude can improve your brain and create these benefits. When you give or receive gratitude, your brain activity is better regulated, decision-making is improved, and the whole self is more grounded, both mentally and physically.

Why Is Gratitude So Powerful?

Gratitude, or feelings of thankfulness and appreciation toward another person, can have huge physical and psychological benefits for both parties. Put on your science hats because we’re about to delve into some studies and research to see how…wait, not everyone has science hats? Well, put on whatever hat you have.

Physical Health Benefits

A study published at UC Berkeley compiles many different studies on gratitude: more grateful people report better physical health, are more willing to seek help for physical concerns, and sleep better and longer. Other benefits listed in the study that grateful people feel include better recovery from injuries and a lower risk of chronic illness.

Other studies have shown similar physical benefits, such as fewer headaches, digestional issues, respiratory infections, and dizziness. It’s easy to see that gratitude directly correlates with healthier people.

Psychological Health Benefits

The same study from UC Berkeley shows that grateful people have higher levels of life satisfaction, happiness, and positive moods. Gratitude can also counteract materialism by making people more satisfied with their situations. Positive feelings can also cancel out negative feelings, motivate self-improvement, and increase self-esteem.

Here’s another important one: workplace-specific gratitude is shown to reduce burnout.

Other research shows that higher levels of gratitude can lower feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety, while raising feelings of social support. Just like with physical health, gratitude correlates with happier people.

How Does Gratitude Affect the Workplace?

When gratitude is shared and felt by all, happiness increases, stress decreases, and employees feel more satisfied and valued. And when employees are happy, relaxed, and appreciated:

Put simply, when employees feel valued and cared for, they are motivated to do their best work and engaged in their responsibilities, and they spread that gratitude around to others. And when gratitude is spread throughout a company, everyone is happier and healthier. 

Where to Start?

Gratitude doesn’t just happen. It takes effort to show appreciation, especially if your neural pathways haven’t been strengthened yet. The first thing you have to know is that gratitude is a cycle, and it has to start at the top. When leaders and managers show gratitude to employees, both the giver and receiver feel happier, more productive, and more motivated. And afterward, the employee feels gratitude toward the company and their coworkers.

That cycle is key. When the company expresses appreciation, employees feel more gratitude and are more likely to express it back to the company and those around them. Here are some ways to start the cycle:

  1. Implement employee recognition programs. Employee recognition is key for expressing gratitude and appreciation. With a robust recognition platform, you can easily recognize employee achievements, reward their efforts, and show appreciation for them as people. Employee recognition is central to making employees feel valued and important.
  2. Celebrate holidays, birthdays, and service anniversaries. Along the same vein as employee recognition, make sure to celebrate holidays and employee milestones. Don’t ever let these days go by without reaching out to employees and letting them know how much you care about them. Use holidays like Christmas, Employee Appreciation Day, and Labor Day to express your appreciation for your people.
  3. Embrace gratitude from the top. To get these amazing benefits, gratitude has to become part of your culture. It shouldn’t just be an emotion people occasionally feel—it should be an attitude that pervades your entire office. And it starts with leaders. Train your leaders and managers to look for opportunities to express appreciation in frequent check-ins, one-on-ones, or just daily interactions.
  4. Shoot for quality, not quantity. You can’t spread genuine gratitude by simply throwing out “thank you”s by the dozens. Offer genuine compliments and appreciation, and your employees will respond with genuine gratitude of their own. Every person at your company brings something unique, so it shouldn’t be difficult to offer quality thanks.

Feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and value can come from anything, including a smile, a compliment, or a thank you note. It’s easier than you might think to transform your culture—you just have to start.

Gratitude Is Awesome—Just Ask Science

When both employers and employees express gratitude and appreciation to those around them, everyone is happier and more productive. People will actually enjoy going to work, and feelings of kindness and goodwill will spread throughout the organization. Those are some pretty awesome benefits for such a little thing.

If you’d like help implementing employee recognition programs, effective holiday celebrations, service awards, or anything related to the employee experience, Awardco can help.