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Sanctioning Gratitude

Before we can experience authentic gratitude in our workspaces, we need to permit ourselves the emotions necessary to express it.

Photo of Robert Smith
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  • Warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits
    • Given and received with grace & honor


  • Elegance of form, manner or action


  • Honesty, integrity in one's beliefs and actions
  • High public esteem
  • Courteous regard


(A rare 'Janus' word meaning both one thing and its opposite)

  • Restriction, prohibition (negative)
  • Permission, approval, endorsement (positive)


In gratitude there is the sharing of a warm and deep appreciation of kindness given and received- an emotional connection between two parties.

Workplace rules of conduct which generally reinforce the idea of 'business at arm's length' discourage or even forbid ('sanction' in the negative connotation of the word) such connections, for legitimate, important and understandable reasons.  Risks such as unfairly-preferential treatment ('favoritism'), loss of independence or unwanted attention, are presently perceived as too great to overcome.

Perhaps before we can inspire true experiences of gratitude in the workplace, we need to permit ('sanction' in the positive sense) ourselves the emotions and methods of expression necessary to share them.

The question, therefore, could be: 

How might we permit the emotions and methods necessary to express authentic gratitude to coexist with the detached professionalism that defines our modern workspace?


Two individuals shared their thoughts with me about gratitude in the workplace.


  • Gratitude can be a form of validation.  When an employee has stretched themselves in an attempt to accomplish something particularly important, valuable or outside their normal area of responsibility, whether they succeeded or not, gratitude can acknowledge, recognize or affirm their effort, encouraging the behavior.
  • Employees should be consulted on how they like to receive gratitude.  Public recognition might be perfect for one individual, embarrassing for another, and might even carry a terrifying feeling of exposure for a third.  Asking in advance ensures that the gratitude fulfills its intended purpose rather than causing harm.
  • Employees may need training on how to express gratitude.  There are gaps in some employees' ability to socialize.  They know neither how to give nor receive feedback including criticism, compliments or gratitude.  Many struggle with 'self-advocacy'.  Some don't believe what they hear and 'second-guess' it, trying to understand what motivated the comment.

Employees represent a wide and varying spectrum of personalities, talents, skills and experience.  Methods of communication, especially expressing gratitude, need to align well with all of them, individually, to be effective.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Do we need new ground rules regarding human interactions in the workplace?

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Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Robert Smith ,

Great to see you sharing your provocations around this topic and bringing your voice to the Gratitude Challenge Community!

From the insights shared in your post, we think it may be particularly interesting to for you to attend our Gratitude in the Workplace Webinar with University of Washington positive organizational leadership expert, Ryan Fehr tomorrow, Oct 13 @ 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time. He’ll be discussing recommendations for designing Ideas for this topic.

You can register for the webinar here

We hope to see you there!

Photo of Pam Gray

I liked your comments about allowing ourselves the emotions that will allow for greater gratitude in the workplace.

It may take awhile to achieve that in workplaces that have become emotionally toxic. Gratitude also implies a certain amount of empathy for it to be a heartfelt expression of appreciation and gratitude. I can see small gestures as a good beginning for true gratitude. It could begin with something as simple as making sure you know your co-workers' names and exchanging a smile and hello as you pass in the halls. It may also help foster feelings of good will if you have a better understanding of what your co-workers do in their day to day work. I also like to see people genuinely compliment one another. Small gestures go a long way in fostering a sense of collaboration as opposed to a competitive work environment.

I look forward to seeing further explorations on this topic!

Photo of Robert Smith

Hi Pam 
I appreciate your thoughts about starting with the basics such as knowing colleagues' names and job responsibilities. From there an understanding can develop about strengths, areas of expertise and professional/personal goals.

As you say, empathy, and also compassion are powerful ways to identify with the achievements enjoyed, or challenges faced, by others. These could help determine when shared gratitude might be most appropriate and appreciated.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Naman Mandhan

Robert Smith What a fantastic post! Your post has left me thinking about a lot of the deeper factors that play a role in how widely accepted a culture of gratitude is in a workplace.

It is unfortunate that feelings of warmth and genuine gratitude are perceived to be mutually exclusive from "professionalism" and interactions in the workplace. This makes me wonder, are their opportunities for companies to employ surveys/methods that seek to understand how employees like to express and receive gratitude? How do leaders within the company become more cognizant of the different forms of expression of gratitude, and tie it into their culture so as to ensure transparency of these expressions and harmony with perceived professionalism?

Photo of Robert Smith

Hi Naman Mandhan ,

Your suggestions regarding employee surveys will be valuable for many in this challenge. Considering the nuanced spectrum of company 'personalities', opportunities for improvement may be widely varied.

And I could't agree more about the importance of getting leadership on board.

Thanks for your comment! -Robert