Gender and the benefits of a grateful workplace

Written by B.J. Woodstein, PhD


“Thanks so much for your efforts! We really appreciate it!” or “You did a fantastic job on that project!”
Wouldn’t you love it if your colleagues or managers spoke to you like that? Wouldn’t you feel good about going to work and giving it your all if you knew that you would be thanked, appreciated and respected?

Well, new research shows that in workplaces where women are in the majority, this is much more common a scenario. Intriguingly, the implication is that women are more likely to show gratitude – at least in the workplace, but perhaps beyond it as well – than men. The underlying idea here is that women are socialised into being more empathic and caring, and this extends to seeing how hard someone is working and how much they’ve tried, and then feeling grateful for that and wanting to show appreciation. Men, on the other hand, tend to be socialised into being more self-focused, which means they’re more likely to recognise and brag about their own efforts, instead of looking outwards at other people. Someone self-centred might be scared of acknowledging other people, because they might worry that doing so somehow downplays their own contributions. Logically, we probably realise that promoting others makes both them and us feel good, and also makes us look like we’re thoughtful and generous people, but emotionally, some people worry that being grateful to others somehow makes us look bad in comparison.

You might wonder why this matters. After all, you should be doing your best at work anyway, so why do you actually need to be thanked for it? Don’t you do your work in exchange for pay? Isn’t your salary thanks enough? No, frankly, it’s not. As humans, we all need to be seen for who we are. We want our own skills and characteristics to be valued, because that means we’re seen as individuals, rather than as easily replaced automatons. In fact, being specific about what we appreciate about another person actually boosts their self-esteem and builds their confidence. And if they’re happier, that rubs off on us and everyone else around them. What a great cycle!

That increase to people’s self-belief and overall moods should be reason enough to do it, but if you want to look at it from a more cynical perspective, you could say that happier people who feel good about themselves will work more efficiently and more effectively. That makes it good for the workplace too. However, there’s a depressing downside to the idea that women are more grateful. The fact is that even in this modern era, women are still paid less than men. You’d think gender pay gaps would be something from the past, but research shows they are still disturbingly common. Two people doing the same sort of work should obviously be paid the same, regardless of their gender, or any other aspect of their lives, such as their ethnicity or marital status or class. Women may not speak up about the pay gap because they have the feeling that they should be pleased to have any job.

Women more likely than men to suffer from imposter syndrome.

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