The Business Value of Gratitude

11/24/2015 05:04 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2016

This week across the country our focus moves toward giving thanks and the power of gratitude. Gratitude in the workplace is especially critical because it satisfies the higher psychological needs of employees to feel a sense of belonging to something greater than him or herself; to feel a sense of meaning at work. This desire for meaning at work is part of an organizational and psychological shift toward a more human workplace. Employees expect to be treated as individuals and human beings, which is why leading companies that understand this need are being rewarded with workplace cultures imbued with purpose, appreciation, trust and respect.

Psychologist Robert Emmons is the world's foremost scholar on the topic of gratitude, and has found that being grateful is integral to our well-being--at home and at work. In his book, Thanks!, Dr. Emmons writes that the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Studies have additionally shown that consistently grateful people have better emotional well-being, are healthier, more energetic, achieve more, are more resilient to trauma, and are less likely to be depressed, stressed, and lonely.

As we reflect on this Thanksgiving, the benefits of gratitude in everyday life are great, but in the workplace they are even more apparent. Here are five of the cultural and financial benefits of gratitude in the workplace.

1. Gratitude increases motivation. Studies show gratitude promotes significant increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy. According to Globoforce's Spring 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker survey, 86 percent of employees who were recognized at work felt more motivated in their jobs.

2. Gratitude increases sense of commitment to a company. Wharton School professor and WorkHuman 2015 speaker Adam Grant studied a Fortune 500 company that allowed employees to contribute to an employee beneficiary fund. He found donors rather than beneficiaries had the greater increase in their affective commitment to the company. Additionally, Globoforce's Spring 2012 Workforce Mood Tracker study found 80 percent of those who felt appreciated at work wanted to stay at the company, as opposed to 60 percent who did not feel appreciated and were job searching.

3. Gratitude increases engagement. Our Summer 2013 Workforce Mood Tracker study found that employees who had been empowered to give recognition to peers were more than twice as engaged as those who were not. Additionally, Bersin by Deloitte found that organizations where recognition occurs have 14 percent better employee engagement than those without. The impact of engagement on ROI is enormous, as research from Towers Watson has shown that engaged employees are more productive and more profitable.

4. Gratitude increases emotional well-being. Gratitude improves individual well-being independent of personality. Over time, gratitude leads to lower stress and depression, and higher levels of social support. According to the 2015 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Report, in workplaces where recognition is tied to company values, 86 percent of HR professionals said it increased employee happiness, and 85 percent said it added humanity in the workplace.

5. Gratitude increases social connections. People who express gratitude are more extroverted, agreeable, open, and conscientious. Work relationships and friendships are critical to the modern work experience, as recent research from Globoforce finds that the more friends employees have at the office, the more they love their companies and trust leadership, and the less inclined they are to jump ship.

The notion of "gratitude" is reflected on this week more than any other time during the year. Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to acknowledge and remember the proven benefits of gratitude, and consider how to reap the benefits of showing thanks in your workplace, not just during the holiday season, but year-round.

For more research on the business value of "thank you," check out this infographic from Globoforce: The Value of Thanking Employees.

Eric Mosley is the CEO of Globoforce, a social recognition firm and the company that created the WorkHuman conference taking place in Orlando, Florida May 9-11, 2016.