Thinking about employee recognition? Six gratitude studies you need to read

We all know gratitude and employee recognition go together like peas and carrots.  The very act of recognising someone’s contribution in work, whether it is thanking them for a little help or big rewards for big achievements, none of this happens without a desire to express gratitude. While it feels good to be the recipient of that gratitude, the benefits of a successful employee recognition strategy are far wider. For instance research shows there’s a big wellbeing impact on the person conveying the appreciation, and that a recipient of recognition is far more likely to initiate a recognition to someone else.

Employee recognition software vendors like Workstars are constantly monitoring current psychology research as well as gathering their own insight into employee behaviour, many of the take-aways can be seen in the fast paced evolution of the peer to peer and social recognition models we see today. This evolution has re-positioned employee recognition, shifting it away from being a performance and reward tool, to a culture must have.

If you are thinking about your own employee recognition strategy, here are six studies that offer some great insights into the future of our industry.

  1. Robert A. Emmons (University of California) & Michael E. McCullough (University of Miami) – 2003

This study stands out as it shows the impact gratitude can have on your psychological health – and ultimately on your physical health too. Robert A. Emmons is a leading gratitude researcher at the University of California. He’s conducted many studies looking at the link between gratitude and well-being. Along with co-researcher Michael E. McCullough, he carried out an experiment where one group of participants was asked to write down the things they were grateful for on a weekly basis. The other groups were asked to record worries and hassles or just neutral life events.

After ten weeks, the ‘gratitude group’ felt 25 % better than the others. They exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about life in general and overall were far more optimistic. Counting your blessings really did make a difference.

  1. Adam M. Grant (University of Pennsylvania) & Francesca Gino (University of North Carolina) – 2010

This is great because it demonstrates the significance of just a very simple thank you – saying thanks for a job well done makes the recipient feel a sense of confidence and self-worth. Grant and Gino’s research also highlighted the ‘ripple’ effect created by being grateful as it leads to increased trust between colleagues.

  1. C. Nathan DeWall et all (University of Kentucky) – 2012

According to this study, grateful people have been shown to be more likely to behave in a pro-social way. We like the fact that the participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were demonstrating more sensitivity and empathy towards other people. That positive frame of mind has knock-on effects too – those participants were less likely to retaliate against others even when they were being given negative feedback.

  1. Y. Chang (University of North Carolina), Y. Lin & L.H. Chen (National Taiwan University) – 2011

Research suggests gratitude can create a greater ‘social circle of good’. The recipient might not directly reciprocate back, but they’re likely to take their turn to do the same for someone else. What we like about this is the fact that gratitude is effectively growing a network of good, nurturing social networks and social support structures. It’s something that should interest any company that’s thinking about ways to improve its culture.

  1. M. E. P. Seligman, T. T. Steen, N. Park & C. Peterson (American Psychologist) – 2005

Led by psychologist Martin Seligman, the research team demonstrated that being the one doing the giving increases the giver’s happiness.

Participants were asked to write and deliver a letter of thanks to someone who’d been kind to them but who the participants felt they hadn’t thanked properly. They were asked to reflect on the benefits they’d received from the person then include them in the letter. Participants involved in the letter writing reported more happiness for one month after the intervention compared to a control group.

Their work tells us gratitude increases levels of happiness. In or outside work, expressing gratitude not only helps you appreciate what you’ve received in life, it also makes you feel you’ve given something back to those who’ve helped you.

  1. A. Korb (University of California) – 2016

Korb’s research, along with other studies from the UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, shows regular expressions of gratitude change the molecular structure of the brain. When you’re happy, your central nervous system responds by making you feel more at ease and less reactive. The centre’s research has shown that gratitude is one of the most effective practices for stimulating those feelings of happiness – which in my book is an excellent reason to keep on doing it!