Dan Ariely opens up his TED Talk with an experiment he conducted using Lego bionicles. There were two conditions: meaningful vs. sisyphus. In the meaningful condition, he asked participants if they would build a bionicle for $3.00. If they said okay, they'd build it and then he would ask the participants if they would build another bionicle for $2.80. And this was repeated for lower prices until the participant did not feel like it was worth building another bionicle. In the sisyphus condition, participants were asked the same question if they would build a bionicle for $3.00. If they said okay, they'd build it. Then they'd be asked if they would build another bionicle for $2.80. And if they said okay, the researcher would destroy the first bionicle while the participant builds the second bionicle. Then the researcher would ask the participant if they would rebuild the first bionicle for $2.60. And this went on until the participants felt as though rebuilding was not worth it.
Ariely noticed that participants built more bionicles when the bionicles were not destroyed and rebuilt. On average the participant would build the bionicle 11 times in the meaningful condition and about 7 times in the sisyphus condition. He then had a different experimental condition asking participants to predict the outcome of the meaningful vs. sisyphus experiment. The participants predicted that subjects would build 8 bionicles in the meaningful condition and 7 bionicles in the sisyphus condition. This means people predicted the right direction but not the right magnitude. They understood that meaning was important, but did not understand how much more important it was to the meaningless condition.
Then, Ariely goes on with his talk concluding that people are inspired and driven by meaning. I'd like to relate this to gratitude in that gratitude in the workplace gives meaning to people in the workplace. It is a small tiny little gesture (expressing gratitude through verbal or behavioral actions) that could impact just how much harder and better employees will work. If meaning gives people purpose, gratitude will only foster an environment of meaningful work.
We have a lot to learn when it comes to showing gratitude, but I think reevaluating what makes work meaningful is a great place to start.