Challenge:

How might we inspire experiences and expressions of gratitude in the workplace?

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Together, let's design innovative and practical Ideas that inspire more authentically grateful workplaces for all.

FOR THIS CHALLENGE WE ARE ASKING THE QUESTION:

How might we inspire experiences and expressions of gratitude in the workplace?


WHY FOCUS ON GRATITUDE AT WORK?

Over the past two decades, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude. Many of these benefits have direct relevance and value to the modern workplace: Gratitude strengthens our relationships, improves our health, motivates us to achieve our goals, and boosts our feelings of satisfaction with life. More specifically, research has found that:


However, research has also found that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else: On a given day, only 10 percent of people say “thank you” to colleagues—and 60 percent of people report that they never or very rarely express gratitude at work. The result, we fear, is that too many people are feeling unappreciated and taken for granted at work, and organizations as a whole are missing opportunities to create healthier, more fulfilling workplaces. Sure enough, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number one reason why people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated. And of course, given the amount of time we spend at work, our well-being at work helps dictate our well-being in life.

We aim to close this “gratitude gap” between what people say they want in the workplace – to feel appreciated and express their own gratitude to colleagues – and what they actually do. It is designed to help identify some of the obstacles to feeling and expressing gratitude at work and to catalyze creative, practical ideas for overcoming these obstacles and inspiring more grateful workplaces. 

To do that, we are seeking input from a wide cross-section of stakeholders, including workplace leaders, employees, executives, intrapraneurs, designers, researchers, humanitarians, educators, and others – even those who may not ordinarily be engaged in the conversation about gratitude and work.

A total of $40,000 in Implementation Grants will be presented to organizations or individuals who have contributed Ideas and are dedicated to continuing to refine, evolve, and implement these concepts in a workplace setting.


WHAT IS GRATITUDE?

Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components:

“First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people . . . gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”


Another leading gratitude researcher, University of Miami professor Michael McCullough, puts it like this: 

“People feel grateful when they have benefited from someone’s costly, intentional, voluntary effort on their behalf.”


WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO EXPERIENCE AND EXPRESS GRATITUDE AT WORK? WHAT’S THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, AND RECOGNITION?

Gratitude can, of course, take many different forms at work, just as it does in the rest of our lives.

Often when organizations talk about gratitude, they talk about formal employee recognition programs that praise and celebrate good results or high performance. These programs often come from the top and involve a reward or prize of some kind.

Appreciation of employees and colleagues is something a little different, as business author and consultant Mike Robbins and others have suggested. Whereas recognition involves positive feedback based on results or performance, appreciation focuses on who people are, not just what they do, making them feel valued and cared for as people, regardless of their performance on a particular project. For the purposes of this Challenge, we welcome ideas for fostering more expressions of recognition or appreciation. 

However, we particularly encourage ideas that place more emphasis on the social, interpersonal dimension of gratitude highlighted by professors Emmons and McCullough above. When we experience gratitude for someone else, we recognize that we have benefitted from their work and effort--they have given us a gift of some kind, even though they weren’t obligated to do so, and that gift has improved our life. Expressions of gratitude recognize and thank them for their efforts on our behalf. In the process, they serve to bring people closer together--a vital ingredient to health and happiness.

In the workplace, this can mean acknowledging the ways colleagues have contributed to our own success and well-being. We don’t just tell them that we recognize their good work or appreciate their good qualities in general; we also acknowledge that we have benefitted from their efforts, and we thank them for making our work and our life better in some way. That can be challenging, especially in competitive environments where employees are reluctant to share credit for their work, for fear that it will undercut their status in the organization and their prospects for advancement. Expressing gratitude might bring up feelings of vulnerability or insecurity. 

That may help to explain why relatively few people actually say “thanks” to their colleagues—the workplace “gratitude gap” described above. Given the benefits of gratitude--stronger social connections, more effective workplaces, more satisfying lives--we believe that solving this problem is vital for individuals as well as organizations.


WHAT TYPE OF IDEAS ARE WE LOOKING FOR? 

Leading Ideas for this Challenge should help employees surmount some of the psychological and structural hurdles to gratitude at work. They should meet at least one, if not all three, of these criteria: 

  • Internal // Internal to Organizations. Ideators should propose ideas to be implemented inside organizational and workplace cultures, not concepts to help organizations express gratitude externally, such as to their customers or shareholders. 
  • Authentic // Authentic Gratitude over Obligatory Gratitude. Ideas should try to facilitate genuine feelings and expressions of gratitude, not mandate or force them. This means recognizing and appreciating the many types of gifts that an individual or organization has provided to others, whether they be gifts of time, effort, material goods, or social or emotional support. It recognizes the intention that went into that gift, the effort or other cost that went into the gift, and the benefit or value it provides to those who received it. The goal is to make these experiences and expressions of gratitude more authentic and habitual; they shouldn’t be driven by a desire to increase productivity or curry favor with others. 
  • Systemic // Think Big, Think Broad. Ideas should consider the complexities of organizational structures and experiences, and design solutions that can be implemented broadly, perhaps even system-wide. At the same time, they should also be specific, mindful of how they would actually be implemented in organizations.


We appreciate that many organizations have already embraced efforts to foster gratitude, including campaigns to have their employees keep a gratitude journal, creating a gratitude wall where staff can post appreciations of one another, reserving time in staff meetings to express gratitude toward colleagues, and recognition programs to celebrate top performers. Through this Challenge, we welcome Ideas for enhancing these existing concepts, or helping them spread, however we strongly encourage new, trailblazing Ideas that innovate well beyond these initial models.


Ideas can also involve different levels of gratitude practice:

  • Individual practices: What can individual employees do to notice and appreciate the good people, events, and things in their lives?
  • Interpersonal or team practices: How can we encourage more people to express gratitude to their colleagues, particularly to those colleagues who have contributed to their success?
  • Cultural shifts: How can we create shifts in organizational culture that make gratitude a more reflexive and common response – how can we make it a habit? How can leaders model gratitude in a way that has positive ripple effects through an organization?


Of course, these levels are interrelated: Though we are putting special emphasis on interpersonal expressions of gratitude, we recognize that when individuals develop their own personal practice of gratitude, they become more likely to express gratitude to others and thus contribute to a more grateful culture.

While there has been a growing body of research on gratitude in education and health, there has been relatively little research exploring the role of gratitude in the workplace. We hope that by rapidly generating and prototyping ideas, we can help identify specific practices--and general questions--that can then be tested more rigorously and systematically through empirical research.  

We are eager to see radical conversations and unexpected collaborations emerge from this effort. Engaging a global community with a variety of experiences, cultural backgrounds, and areas of expertise should provide many opportunities for learning and for real and lasting impact on the quality of people’s lives around the world.


RESOURCES TO SPUR YOUR IDEAS

The Greater Good Science Center has produced a variety of resources explaining cutting-edge research on gratitude and how it can be applied to the real world, including the workplace. Please see our Additional Resources page for a comprehensive list of supporting research and resources. 

In developing your Ideas, we encourage you to consider the following research-based tips, which draw from the GGSC’s popular articles on “Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work,” and “How Gratitude Can Transform Your Workplace,” along with a paper by University of Washington business school professor Ryan Fehr:

1.  Start at the Top: Employees need to hear “thank you” from the boss, which sets an important tone and example for the rest of the organization. At the same time, when employees do feel genuine gratitude for a supervisor, they shouldn’t hold back—upward expressions of appreciation, though they can be complicated, can benefit people on both sides of the “thank you.”

2.  Thank the People Who Never Get Thanked: Thanking those who do thankless work makes their contributions visible and thus broadens everyone’s understanding of how the organization functions—and needless to say, it improves morale and increases trust.

3.  Aim for Quality, not Quantity: When you are specific about the ways a person, action, or thing has helped you, it increases your own appreciation—and it tells the person that you are paying attention, rather than just going through the motions.

4.  Provide Different Opportunities to Express Gratitude: Not everyone likes to express—or receive—gratitude in the same way. Encouraging different methods of appreciation helps people find the right fit. Gratitude isn’t one-size-fits-all.

5.  In the Wake of Crisis, Take Time to Give Thanks: Cultivating a culture of gratitude might be the best way to help a workplace bounce back from the stresses that come with change, conflict, or failure.

6. Connect People with Those They Have Helped: Although people frequently feel gratitude when they receive help, research shows that they also feel gratitude for the opportunity to help others; bringing employees into contact with colleagues they have helped should make them feel good all over again.

7. Help Employees Develop New Skills—and Recognize Their Progress: Employees feel grateful when they have opportunities to develop new skills, and when they get feedback from supervisors that supports this growth.  

8. Be Careful of Gratitude’s Pitfalls: People can feel angry if they’re forced to express gratitude, envious if colleagues or supervisors express gratitude to some but not others, and excessive pride if they’re inundated with praise. You can guard against these pitfalls by trying to nurture authentic (rather than mandated) expressions of gratitude, express gratitude widely and evenly across an organization, and balance recognition with an emphasis on colleagues’ interdependence on each other.


OpenIDEO CHALLENGE PROCESS AND TIMELINE

Throughout the Challenge, we’ll rely heavily on design research methods like interviewing, storytelling and empathy exercises that allow us to immerse ourselves into the experiences of others. Building upon this research, we’ll bring the Challenge question to life and develop solutions that are centered around real, human experiences.

PHASE I // OpenIDEO CHALLENGE: 

Research Phase // August 29 - September 26: The Challenge begins with a Research Phase, during which participants are encouraged to inspire and inform the community through submitted stories, interviews, qualitative and quantitative data, personal stories, and scholarly research. Participants are prompted to conduct [one or several] Research Missions, with the goal of exploring the motivations behind expressing and receiving Gratitude in our workplaces. 

Ideas Phase // September 27 - October 25: Equipped with the experiences from the Research Phase, and drawing on resources provided above, participants will be invited to propose new design innovations that radically push the boundaries of existing gratitude practices.

Review Phase // October 26 - November 9: Submitted Ideas are scored and reviewed by OpenIDEO, our Challenge Sponsors, and topical experts who, together, will determine which Ideas move on to the Refinement Phase. 

Refinement Phase // November 10 - December 8: The participants work, together with invited advisors, to refine shortlisted ideas into finalised proposals for the judging panel. The community will also be actively commenting and suggesting during this phase, as will people attending the November 17 event “Gratitude and Well-Being at Work,” hosted by the Greater Good Science Center in San Francisco.

Final Review // December 9 - December 17: A panel of Expert Judges, along with our Challenge Sponsors and OpenIDEO will review all concepts and determine our Top Idea Winners. 

Top Ideas Announced // December 18:  


PHASE II // IMPLEMENTING TOP IDEAS:

A total of $40,000 in Implementation Grants will be distributed to participants and organizations who have submitted or helped to refine Top Ideas. That funding is intended to help them deepen and improve the experiences and expression of gratitude within their organization.


WHO CAN PARTICIPATE?

  • Everyone! All participants within the OpenIDEO community. We are calling on designers, creative thinkers, researchers, psychologists, employees, employers, and everyone in between to contribute to the conversation. This community has representatives from nearly every country, who often bring solutions and Ideas that are geographically specific to their diverse regions. When concepts from across the globe are shared, commented on, and iterated throughout the Challenge, truly unique connections and innovations are made. 


WHO ARE WE INNOVATING FOR?

  • Employees and HR Professionals: This group may already be exploring gratitude Idea development and team coordination around this topic--they may even have instituted their own gratitude practices within their organization--but prior engagement with the topic isn’t necessary. Most important is that they have a commitment to inspiring more gratitude within their organization, as a means to promoting its overall well-being. While their concepts may still be early stage, they are likely approaching this problem area with the intention of creating lasting impact and have plans to grow and scale their Idea. 


  • Managers, Executives and Leaders: These are the decision makers, organizational leaders, and culture creators who have the position and wherewithal to inspire and weave systems of gratitude into their organizational structure. 


WHAT STAGE OF IDEAS ARE WE LOOKING FOR?

We will be supporting multiple levels of innovation as well as guiding our Ideators through this process; however, Ideas will likely be operating somewhere along this evolutionary path:

  • Ideation: Many different new Ideas will likely emerge during the Challenge, either from an individual innovator, group or student brainstorm, or employee team. Ideators should remain active throughout the Challenge timeline and reach the next level of fidelity during the process. 
  • Prototyping: Participants will develop early, low-fidelity prototypes, small tests, or experiments and actively be planning to test these concepts with prospective users.
  • Piloting: Participants have developed working schematics and prototypes, and have actively begun testing with real users, while learning from and iterating on their solution. 
  • Scale: Participants have developed a pilot, tested, and analyzed the impact of that pilot as it pertains to the problem scope. They are now ready to expand significantly and begin to scale. 
  • Implementation: Ideas have begun implementing their solution in a real world organization. This concept will have identified key stakeholder segments, begun establishing partnerships, and are actively applying the innovation within an organizational context. 


HOW TO GET INVOLVED

We have a number of ways for you to be involved. If you’re interested in joining the Challenge, you can:

  1. Submit an Idea to the Challenge! We encourage you to create a team within your company to brainstorm and submit Ideas together. If you'd like to host a workshop or event at your company to brainstorm as a larger group, OpenIDEO will provide a Toolkit to help you facilitate it. If this is of interest get in touch with us at gratitude@ideo.com
  2. Host implementation within your company. As the Ideas phase concludes, we’ll be looking for organizations to support our innovations by internally prototyping and testing them. If this is of interest, please email us at gratitude@ideo.com 
  3. Share the Challenge within your company or other networks. Let your friends, co-workers, or loved ones know about the Challenge and encourage them to get involved.


PRIZES AND INCENTIVES 

A total of $40,000 in Implementation Grants will be distributed to organizations or participants who have submitted or helped to refine Top Ideas. That funding is intended to aid them in deepening and improving the experiences and expressions of gratitude within their organization.

ADDITIONAL INCENTIVES

  • Top Ideas will be invited to prototype and implement their solutions within actual organizations.
  • Some of the leading concepts that emerge from the Ideas stage and move on to the Refinement stage will be presented  at the one-day conference “Gratitude and Well-Being at Work,” which will include an audience of thought leaders, researchers and other topical experts, leaders in business, HR, and workplace wellness, and many employees who could benefit from these Ideas.
  • Being partnered with an organization to internally test, refine, and implement their concept on a true systems level. 
  • Receiving amplifying exposure in both media and on social media platforms.


EVALUATION CRITERIA

Top Ideas will elicit a “Yes” in response to the  following questions:

  • How Might We: Does the Idea answer our Challenge question?
  • Internal: Does the Idea seek to inspire gratitude internally within an organization? Concepts should be designed to be implemented and impact internal organizational and workplace cultures. 
  • Authentic: Does the Idea foster genuine and authentic expressions gratitude? This feeling is rooted in a deep appreciation of the many types of benefits we receive from others, whether from colleagues or from an organization as a whole. These can include different types of gifts that they give us, including their time, effort, social-emotional support, or material goods. Authentic gratitude recognizes the effort and intention that went into the gift, and the benefit or value it provides to those who receive it.
  • Systemic: Does the Idea consider the complexities of organizational structures and experiences, and design solutions that can be implemented broadly and systems-wide? 
  • Human Centered: This is at the heart of the Design Thinking approach. We look for ideas that lead with empathy, showing evidence of prototyping solutions and incorporating user and market feedback. In the end, Top Ideas should be poised to make life easier for users.
  • Innovative: Are the Ideas new? We're eager to think beyond current conventional wisdom around gratitude and explore new ways to experience, express and receive it. This could still relate to an existing Idea or practice, but ideally it innovates beyond it. 
  • Contextually Relevant: Does the Idea solve a real barrier to gratitude  identified within your intended organization? We are mindful that while there could be many great innovations that are universally applicable, there are significant regional and cultural differences influencing how gratitude is considered, shared, and received. The participants should therefore be able to convincingly show what kind(s) of regional complexities their Ideas are able to solve.
  • Scalable: How could the idea be accelerated and scaled up? Starting small and local is often an essential need and can be really powerful – but participants are also asked to describe how they anticipate their Idea will grow, systemically, geographically as well as operationally. Special consideration is given to Ideas that are mindful of the complexity of organizational structure and Ideas which might adapt as they grow. Top Ideas are expected to provide a compelling outline of how winning the Challenge, together with corporate mentorship, could be used to advance and implement the solution.


ABOUT OUR SPONSORS

Greater Good Science Center

Based at the University of California, Berkeley, the Greater Good Science Center is unique in its commitment to both science and practice: Not only does it sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, it also helps people apply this research to their personal and professional lives. Since 2001, it has been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—what it calls “the science of a meaningful life.” And it has been without peer in its efforts to translate and disseminate this science to the public, including through its award-winning online magazine, Greater Good.


John Templeton Foundation

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind. It encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians, as well as between such experts and the public at large. In all cases, its goal is the same: to spur curiosity and accelerate discovery.

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We follow a process with phases. Currently we are in the Refinement phase. You can participate by giving feedback and suggestions to the selected ideas.
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