We just passed Thanksgiving, a day for gratitude, and we are well into the holiday season when we give gifts to recognize our gratitude for kindness and support given by family, friends and co-workers. Gratitude is also a present for ourselves that increases our self-worth and sense of belonging. Little publicized though is that verbal gifts of gratitude at the workplace increase efficacy and affect the bottom line.
Adam Grant of the Wharton School and Francesca Gino of the Kenen-Flager Business School set out to measure how gratitude affects help and if gratitude made the recipients feel more socially valued or feel more competent in their skills. They did this by creating four different scenarios which allowed recipients to experience gratitude. They then measured the result of gratitude upon subsequent behavior.
In the first scenario, Grant and Gino had students assist another person (in reality, a fictitious person) by correcting this person’s cover letter. In the pursuant email exchange, the assistants received either an email that acknowledged the assistance or expressed gratitude for the assistance. The researchers found that those who received the gratitude email felt more social worth than those who didn’t.
The second stage of the study used the same pretext to test if there was a spillover effect in willingness to help another person. So, within 24 hours of the acknowledgment or gratitude response, another fictitious student asked for help with a cover letter. 55% of respondents who had received gratitude emails helped the second student while only 25% of those who had received just acknowledgment emails went on to help the second student.
The next scenario tested how gratitude from the supervisor increased motivation to helping the employer, in this case the university’s fund-raising department. The supervisor expressed either mere acknowledgment or gratitude to the student employees. Those employees receiving gratitude has a 50% increase in number of phone calls made during the experiment week.
The fourth case studied the amount of time spent in subsequent help for the same person. Grant and Gino again used the cover letter context. This time, the “student” who was receiving the help spoke face-to-face with those giving the assistance. In informal conversations about the weather, the “student” either expressed gratitude for the help or didn’t acknowledge the help. Those who received expressions of gratitude spent significantly more time helping the “student” with his next cover letter.
In all of four scenarios, expressing gratitude resulted in increased favorable effort in a subsequent task. Additionally, Grant and Gino concluded from the survey feedback that gratitude produced a more valuable feeling of social worth than increasing confidence in competencies needed to complete a task.
So, how does this translate into the effect of a business leader’s gratitude upon employee motivation? Receiving gratitude makes a person feel socially valuable, or in business terms, valuable to the company. The sense of value creates a feedback loop significantly increasing the desire to continue with the assistance behavior. A spillover effect is that recipients are more likely to engage in community behavior like cooperation and collaboration.
So in this season of gratitude, remember that little words of gratitude make an employee feel more valued and, in turn, the employee brings more value to the company.