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The Gratitude Effect

Take a minute to thank your employees. It’ll benefit your bottom line more than you may realize.
The value of a thank you
infographic created by Brad Candullo

We expect our readers to have halfway decent manners. And even if you’re lacking in that department, it probably stands to common sense that people appreciate a little gratitude for their work.

Still, a study shows that the ROI on simply saying “thank you” goes a long way – probably much farther than you think.

Harvard associate professor Francesca Gino (@francescagino) conducted two experiments in gratitude for her book, Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed and How We Can Stick to the Plan.

In one experiment, Gino studied a team of 41 call-center fundraisers, all of whom worked on a fixed salary. At the end of one week, the supervisor personally thanked about half of them. The next week, the group that received thanks saw its call volume shoot up about 50 percent while the unacknowledged group kept its total number of calls about the same.

“Expressions of gratitude from leaders could have wonderful effects,” Gino observes.

In Gino’s other experiment, conducted with Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) of the Wharton School, she considered the trickle-down effect that gratitude can have on the willingness of employees within an entire organization to help one another.

“They first asked 57 students to give feedback to a fictitious student, Eric, regarding his sloppy cover letter for a job,” writes the Harvard Gazette’s Chuck Leddy (@ChuckLeddy). “Half were emailed a terse confirmation: ‘I received your feedback on my cover letter.’ The other half received gratitude: ‘I received your feedback on my cover letter. Thank you so much! I am really grateful.’”

Next, “participants received a message from another fictitious student, Steven, asking for feedback on his cover letter. “Would participants who had received thanks from Eric be more likely to help Steven? Indeed. More than double the percentage of students in the gratitude group (66 percent) helped Steven, versus just 32 percent of those in the no-gratitude contingent.”

Gino says this “gratitude effect” was the most surprising aspect of her research. Why does expressing thanks have such impact?

As she explains to Leddy, “Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.”



Grant, Gino’s collaborator from Wharton, was featured in a New York Times Magazine cover story in March. The subject — the value of help in the workplace — certainly applies here. “For Grant,” notes staff writer Susan Dominus, “helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”

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