Gratitude in the Workplace

man holding woman's hand

By Phil Cadman, PT, DPT

In every workplace, people have an inherent desire to feel valued by others. Not only that, but gratitude will create a domino effect within the organization. A culture of gratitude is evident through the interactions that your employees have with each other as well as your patients.

While appreciation is the best gift you can give to employees, it’s missing in many organizations today. You can take some of these steps today to ensure that you and your organization do not fall into this category.


1. Start meetings with gratitude

Instead of starting a meeting with boring introductions or status updates, ask people to share something they are grateful for. This approach helps people become more present and less stressed.

2. Use creative tactics

Be creative when it comes to creating a culture of appreciation. One idea is to create a 30-day gratitude challenge. You can use an employee recognition board to publicly congratulate outstanding work.

3. Embrace those two little words

The expression of gratitude could be your most effective tool to retain talent. Remember to thank employees not only for performance-based accomplishments but also for more subtle contributions like offering a different perspective in a meeting or taking on additional projects. Even a simple email or handwritten note will go a long way.

4. Lead by example

A culture of gratitude starts at the top. Gratitude is an essential leadership skill that must be intentional, frequent, and authentic. Don’t wait for annual performance reviews to acknowledge people for the great work they are doing.


1. Start at the top

This is one of the clearest takeaways from research into workplace gratitude: Employees need to hear “thank you” from the boss first. The power of showing your gratitude for something that may be considered “doing your job” can have the effect of applying the turbo boost to your organization. Your employees will be empowered to do more and continue to excel in the work that they are praised for. It is even more meaningful when coming from the head of the organization because not only did you notice but you also took the time to acknowledge it.

2. Thank the people who never get thanked

Every organization has a class of employee that hogs all the glory, for us it is the physical therapists. In hospitals, it’s doctors. At universities, it’s faculty. But what about those who answer phones, schedule your patients, clean the clinic, submit the invoices, or make sure that you have towels and pillowcases?

Thanking those who do thankless work is crucial because it sets the bar and establishes the tone. Without a competent and dedicated staff behind us, we would be overrun with responsibilities and would not be able to focus on taking care of our patients. Don’t take these employees for granted and show public appreciation regularly.

3. Aim for quality, not quantity

Forcing people to be grateful doesn’t work. It feeds the power imbalances that undermine gratitude in the first place, and it can make expressions of gratitude feel inauthentic. Be specific about the benefits of a person, their actions, or what they were able to bring into your organization. This will increase your own appreciation, and it tells a person that you are paying attention, rather than just going through the motions.

4. Provide many opportunities for gratitude

When people are thanked for their work, they are more likely to increase their helping behavior and provide help to others. The key is to create many different opportunities for gratitude.

You can create an appreciation platform that allows employees to recognize each other’s contributions. You don’t need to build a website. A bulletin board will do. Label it the “Kudos Wall.”

Gift giving is another way to foster gratitude. Giving creates gratitude but giving can also be a good way to express gratitude. You can say “thanks” by taking on the “dirty work,” have an employee of the month parking space, or giving a day off. These examples of non-monetary gifts can lead to more trust in working relationships.

We need to overcome our avoidance to gratitude on the job and come to see it as just one more career skill from which everyone will benefit. At the end of the day, there is no magic formula. It’s really quite simple, we all want to feel appreciated and valued. 

Phil Cadman, PT, DPT
Phil Cadman, PT, DPT, is an APTA Private Practice member and owner of Premier Physical Therapy Services in Cincinnati, OH. He can be reached at pcadman@premierpts.com and @premierphysicaltherapy.