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The 5 Gratitude Expressions: A Method to Understand & Strengthen the Experience of Gratitude at Work

A method for people to learn each other's preferences for gratitude at work and how to express gratitude in meaningful ways for teammates.

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Gratitude is expressed differently across cultures, workplaces, friends, and families. It is something we learn early on when our parents tell us to say "thank you."  We learn quickly that expressing gratitude is not merely an act of saying thank you, but it also generates a warm feeling for both the receiver of gratitude as well as the giver of gratitude.

Today's Workplace 

In today's diverse and dynamic workplace, gratitude has become more and more muted, limited to forced expressions such as Employee of the Month or weekly shout outs. 

There are many proven benefits of gratitude such as increased motivation, happiness, connection to others, and commitment to one's company. Then, why do employees feel under-appreciated and over-worked? Why are people not experiencing or expressing gratitude, when all humans learn to express gratitude from a young age?

We asked ourselves these questions and realized that expressing gratitude in the workplace is different than at home. At home with our friends and family, it can be easier to express gratitude because we are comfortable with each other, know each other's cultures, and have learned over time what is meaningful to each other.

Knowing that people are capable of showing gratitude at home and in personal life, this led us to ask: What is stopping people from opening up and expressing/experiencing gratitude at work in meaningful ways?

The Workplace is Better with Gratitude

At CultureIQ, we believe in the power of gratitude. We think that people in the workplace lack a common language to express gratitude. Because people work in diverse companies and organizations, they also encounter people who express gratitude differently from them and also prefer to receive gratitude in other ways.  For example, when we did our brainstorming session, one of our employees said she likes to get a reward such as a gift card when she has accomplished something.  Another employee said he likes to receive a verbal thank you by his manager in private. A manager said he likes to recognize people at his meetings.  All of these examples revealed that there may be a disconnect in how people give and prefer to receive gratitude in the workplace.

This past year, our company conducted an analysis of Top Company Cultures and we found that the culture quality of "Support," as in when employees feel valued as people and feel confident and connected to leadership, was a top driver of engagement at companies with top cultures. 

Building a culture of Support where people feel valued can be a challenge. We know there is room for improvement. According to a Gallup Poll, only 65% of Americans say they have received no recognition in the past year.

We Are Building a Platform for Learning About Gratitude Preferences

Our idea helps people overcome obstacles from expressing gratitude in the workplace. Just like how the 5 Love Languages help people in relationships figure out what they each need, our idea is to build the 5-6 Gratitude Expressions for the Workplace. It will be a survey that people can take to indicate how they like to receive appreciation from others in the workplace. 

The Gratitude Expressions Survey can be taken by both managers and employees. The results are then populated into a dashboard to give leadership an idea of team-level and department-level preferences. The results can also be distributed as reports (Gratitude Profiles), so managers and teammates can learn about each other's preferences and start showing their gratitude in ways that are most meaningful to each other.

The User: Employees, Managers, Leaders

We are designing for all members of the workplace! This includes employees, managers, and leaders.

To truly understand the perspective of the user, we conducted a user experience mapping session where we brought together members of our CultureIQ team who have experience with our clients and exposure to employees, managers, and leaders of a variety of types of companies.  We put ourselves in the users' shoes and mapped out their needs and experiences. 

Here is a LINK TO USER EXPERIENCE MAPS which was the output of this workshop. We came up with stories for each type of user we expect to use the Gratitude Expressions Platform.

Prototyping: Developing & Testing Our First Survey

Since the 5 love languages do not translate directly to the workplace, we are researching and testing the 5 expressions of gratitude that are applicable to the workplace.

We conducted a prototyping workshop to come up with our initial iteration of the Gratitude Expressions survey. 

From our prototyping workshop, we were able to produce our first iteration of the survey where you'll see that we have 5 Gratitude Expressions that we are testing with our company. 

Once the gratitude expressions were determined, we asked our company to take the survey explaining what we are trying to achieve and encouraged people's participation.

After running the survey for a few days, we were able to see some interesting findings on how our company employees feel about gratitude and their general understanding of the concept. Since our company is small, the testing was not necessarily representative of the larger population but the testing exercise still enabled us to better understand how we all perceive gratitude. 

Once the surveys were all completed, the results also provided us with a 'Gratitude Profile' that can be generated for each individualBelow is a sample of a gratitude profile. 

This type of 'Gratitude Profile' summarizes what the results mean for each individual employee and offer suggestions as to what to do for that person with that specific profile. So for example, if employee Julie's #1 Gratitude Expression is "receiving thoughtful rewards," her manager and peers know that this is what they can do for her whenever she accomplishes something great or does something positive in the workplace.  This guide can be distributed out to an individual's team, manager, and leadership.

What We Hope to Do With the Prize Money

If our idea is funded, we would spend the money on doing research to confirm what the 5 Gratitude Expressions for the Workplace should be and vet the associated survey questions. We would then deploy our survey at scale to organizations willing to pilot the method and offer us more feedback to continue to iterate. For example, we could work with organization to include the Gratitude Expressions survey in an on-boarding process, as well as for any existing hires. Lastly, we plan to build out guides for the different Gratitude Profiles on what type of expressions of gratitude would work best for each profile.  

Ultimately, we aim to build out a survey program and training module that can be scaled to organizations of all sizes and industries. 

Idea Title

Gratitude Expressions: A Method to Understand & Strengthen the Experience of Gratitude at Work

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

We want to provide people the tools and language to effectively communicate and receive gratitude at work. Often managers (and people in general) give and prefer to receive gratitude in the ways that they themselves value most. By acknowledging and educating that gratitude is expressed in a variety of ways, we can equip organizations with the tools to ensure that no employee is left behind or feels unappreciated. In the end, everyone at work can benefit from a deeper understanding of their team members and those around them in terms of how they prefer to give and receive gratitude.

Who are you innovating for?

We are innovating for our internal culture, our clients (and potential clients) who are actively investing in their culture, and any organization who wants to create a positive workplace. We believe that gratitude is a critical component in creating strong company culture that ultimately helps ourselves to increase the amount of empathy, emotional intelligence, and overall employee engagement.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

Our company is a startup, and our clients are of all different sizes, and from all different industries. Ranging from small and medium businesses to global enterprises, our impact would be wide.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

We would introduce the idea to our entire company at an all-hands meeting. Our Strategy and Marketing teams would be responsible for implementing the idea. Our Ops team would help to ensure the program runs smoothly and track improvements for future iterations. Then our Strategy, Sales, and Development teams would help bring this to life at client companies who are interested in improving gratitude in the workplace in the format of surveys.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

We need to spend time doing research on what exactly the expressions of gratitude are, and we'll want to recruit some experts (researchers at universities) to help us do that. We also plan to work with survey design experts to help us ensure we have structured our questions in the best possible way to craft accurate Gratitude Profiles.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

We would prototype and test the solution internally. Since we are a culture survey platform, our survey tools allow us to build customized surveys and training modules ourselves and test them internally and make them scalable. If this is successful, we can also test with some of our clients to get feedback from companies that are actively working on strengthening their cultures.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

We would partner with a local university such as Columbia or NYU to find professors and doctorate students doing research in this field. We already have an idea of the gratitude expressions that have been working for us but we would be able to prove our hypothesis through additional research and testing.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Our idea emerged from a group brainstorm led by a member of our Marketing team. She was really excited about the IDEO Open Challenge and thought it would be a great challenge to tackle as a marketing, ops, and strategy team collaborative effort. We got together and did a design thinking session to better understand our end user, obstacles they face in the workplace when it comes to gratitude, and come up with as many ideas that we could. We then narrowed down ideas during our group discussion.

Tell us about yourself

We are employees at CultureIQ, a company whose mission is to partner with organizations to make culture their competitive advantage. We represent the marketing, operations, and culture strategy teams at our company and all bring varying experiences to the table. All of us have a deep passion for building strong company cultures and we are grateful to IDEO for giving us a reason to come together.

Where are you / your team located?

New York City

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Culture IQ, Inc.

Company / Organization Name

CultureIQ is a culture management platform that partners with organizations to help them strengthen their culture.


Tell us about your experience

Anna and Savina from the marketing team bring experiences from the Agency side of marketing. Mila, David, and Rea from the Culture Strategy team bring experience from the consulting and professional services world. Ben brings his love of the outdoors and team building as well as his experience in business development. All of us have a deep passion for building strong company cultures, one workplace at a time.

Please describe, in detail, how you will test and get feedback on your concept.

Given that we're a survey company, testing and gathering feedback is a natural part of our process. To test out the validity of our gratitude expression, we used our survey design expertise to put together a "Gratitude Survey" to survey employees at our company so we can use the results of that survey to continue to refine our idea. This survey tests the broad spectrum of gratitude in general, as well as a few different measures of the qualities we have proposed. We are not only interested in which of five expressions of gratitude an employee would prefer most, but we are also measuring *how* that expression can be best utilized. For example, our question around "Words of appreciation" also has a follow-up question to ask whether the survey taker prefers spoken words in private, spoken words in public, written words in public, etc...

Please describe specifically how you plan to scale your idea. What are the key next steps you will take, and how will those steps inform the evolution and growth of your concept?

To scale, we first need to confirm that we have the gratitude expressions refined. Validating that our expressions of gratitude resonate with the employees at our company is essential to our idea being successful. This would be a long process of testing in the field (surveying our own company is a good first step, and then later partnering with organizations to gather larger data sets for our survey), as well as a rigorous validation by qualified professionals (perhaps I/O psychologists and/or another set of survey-designers). Some of the questions we would like to ask ourselves and test are: - Are our initial expressions the right ones? Do we need to add new expressions? - Is there something we have not considered about how people interpret them? Cultural considerations? Biases? - Are we overlooking any statistically significant population? After that, there is a lot more work to be done honing down training and content so that people using our survey can properly understand how to use the new information with their teams and employees. Gratitude is called for in a variety of situations in varying magnitudes, so we must provide context to help people understand how to express gratitude in small day-to-day ways, as well as large ways. Throughout this process, we will be able to refine how best to phrase the survey questions, how to design the survey, and how to provide actionable opportunities for companies to use this data to the benefit of their organization.

As we have seen in the Challenge, there is a tension between authentic expressions of gratitude and mandatory gratitude. How does your idea inspire truly authentic expressions of gratitude versus mandated ones?

Essential to our submission is the idea that we are NOT telling people what to do to express gratitude. We're simply giving people the tool and a set of guidelines to be able to express gratitude more effectively. If our hypothesis is correct, then the workplace is full of people feeling under-appreciated not because they AREN'T appreciated, but because the appreciator doesn't speak the same language as the person they're appreciating. The gratitude expressions will ultimately bridge the gap.

Gratitude often thrives when opportunities for connection are created. How will your concept create new opportunities for human connection?

By providing the insight that employees A, B, C, and D all prefer to receive gratitude differently, managers and coworkers will be able to interact, communicate, and connect on a much deeper level that honors their individuality and opens avenues for feeling much closer. Understanding and aligning with someone's gratitude expression is equivalent to giving glasses to someone with poor eyesight: now that they can see better, they can make informed choices.

Who (specifically) will benefit from your concept, and how they will interact with it? What design considerations have you included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions? 

Employees will primarily benefit from our concept as it will create an environment of open communication and an understanding that there are accepted methods of gratitude expressions within an organization. We envision this beginning right at the onset of an employee lifecycle with new hires completing gratitude surveys as part of their on-boarding process. Managers and teammates will know how to express their gratitude to their new teammates. After a certain amount of time, employees will also have the opportunity to re-take the survey in case their preferences change. Additionally, it's important to continue to gather feedback on this process, so we envision follow-up surveys to measure whether this data is being used by the managers, how it could be more useful, and how employees feel. Our design includes an intuitive survey and analytics dashboard. It will output "gratitude profiles" that will be easy to interpret and use. The language we use is simple and actionable.

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

If our idea gets selected, we will validate whether most people's gratitude preferences are represented in our 5 Expressions of Gratitude. To do this, we will partner with a research organization or a University (such as NYU) to be able to test a bigger pool of people and organizations. We intend to go through a similar process to design a survey that gathers the right data in the most suitable way. We would then use the funding to promote our idea to organizations who are willing to pilot.
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Attachments (2)

Gratitude Language_User Experience Journey.pdf

User Experience Journey/Mapping Worksheets

Gratitude in the Workplace_CultureIQ Brainstorm Facilitation.pdf

Deck used to facilitate the internal brainstorm session.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Anna Lee ,

This is a final reminder that the deadline for all submission materials is 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time TODAY--that's in less than 4 hours. Excited to see your final post on the platform!

Photo of Anna Lee

Hi Lauren Ito  ,

We are all set with our idea. Hope everyone sees the value in what we put together and the findings we've collected through this refinement phase.


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