Co-founder and CEO of Workhuman, Eric Mosley explains why gratitude is the foundation for a positive work culture.
There has never been a better time for workers to quit their jobs to pursue something more meaningful, flexible, or lucrative – whether that’s a contract role or a job at another company. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. workers are doing just that. Since July 2011, Americans have been quitting their jobs at an increasing rate. In April alone, 3.5 million people quit their jobs and there were 5.9 million hires.
In this environment, where the stakes are the highest they’ve ever been for employee retention, companies need to be very deliberate in the culture they create. We need new ways to foster and strengthen the emotional connections that attract and retain top talent. We need to be more human at work.
Recognition as a baseline
By now, most forward-thinking executives would agree that appreciation and recognition are integral to creating a positive employee experience. Our own Employee Experience Index with IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, based on a study of more than 23,000 workers, showed that when employees receive recognition for doing good work, 83% report a more positive employee experience. When workers don’t receive recognition, only 38% have a positive experience.
We always talk about recognition from the perspective of the receiver of that positive reinforcement. You excel on a project at work and a manager or co-worker gives you recognition. That appreciation gives you a boost and makes you want to repeat that behavior. That’s why performance goes up, morale goes up, energy and engagement go up. Positive reinforcement has the power to do that to each individual – especially when recognition is given frequently throughout the year.
Gratitude – the equal and opposite part of recognition
But there’s another lens from which you can look at that moment, and that’s through the lens of the giver. The act of giving in recognition, but also in life, is perhaps even more profound than the act of receiving. When you give an award and write a personal message describing how someone else’s work impacted you, you are vulnerable and authentic in that moment. It breaks down cynicism.
That’s because giving recognition is a moment of gratitude. At Workhuman Live 2019, Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at University of California, Davis said, “Gratitude is the ultimate touchpoint of human existence … and the ultimate performance-enhancing substance.”
Indeed, practicing gratitude can affect how you think for the rest of the day. Why? Giving gratitude requires you to take a step back, to think about how that activity or that performance affected you. That puts you in a different mindset. It’s a much bigger thing than somebody saying, “thank you.” You’re taking time out of your day when you don’t have to; in a social recognition program, giving recognition is voluntary.
Most importantly, giving gratitude creates a connection – a solidarity and interdependency between the giver and the receiver. They become bound together. The receiver gets an amazing lift, but the person giving is also saying, “I was affected by what you did.” That is a profound message to give to another human being.
The business impact of gratitude
Gratitude is the foundation of a human work culture. And we have seen from our customers that the more gratitude in a company, the better it performs. The data proves it, over and over again.
For example, data from our Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute shows that retention and engagement rates are higher for employees who receive recognition, and even higher still for employees who both give and receive recognition. We’ve also seen that high performers give and receive the most recognition across a company.
One of our customers, LinkedIn, found a 96% retention rate for employees who receive four or more awards, and a 95% retention rate for new hires who receive the same amount of awards. “Making people feel they belong at LinkedIn and recognizing their contributions is core to that culture. Our use of the Bravo tool, as powered by Workhuman, helps power that recognition,” says Christina Hall, chief people officer at LinkedIn.
Creating this strong culture of connection requires investment in a social recognition program that allows employees to show their gratitude in the moment, up and down the organization – not just once-a-year in a performance review.
Companies that invest just 1% of payroll into such a program see significant returns in not just retention, but also productivity. Workhuman customers show an average increase in employee productivity of $1,737 per employee. For a 15,000-person organization, this equals an annual benefit of $26 million compared to industry peers.
Where to start
In order to reap the benefits of a culture infused with gratitude, you have to rethink what it means to show appreciation and recognition in the workplace. Recognition has traditionally been an impersonal, top-down process. To compete in today’s job market, companies need user- and human-friendly programs, such as Social Recognition, that empower employees to show their gratitude in the moment and build connections with their peers. These connections are the fibers that hold together resilient, agile organizations that can withstand the ebbs and flows of today’s volatile job market.