Why being ‘too grateful’ at work can impact women’s careers



Being overly grateful at work can deny us our power — particularly for women. Photo: Getty
Being overly grateful at work can deny us our power — particularly for women. Photo: Getty

You’ve worked hard to land a good job, you’ve got a decent boss and your colleagues are easy to get along with. Your salary isn’t amazing, but it’s enough to pay your rent and bills. You feel grateful that you’re employed at all, particularly when so many people are facing redundancy as a result of COVID-19.

Being thankful is rarely a negative thing. In recent years, research into positive psychology has consistently linked gratitude with greater happiness. And at work, feeling grateful can have a number of positive outcomes, including lower stress levels, more positive emotions and higher job satisfaction.

We’re often reminded to express gratitude and to appreciate the good in situations. But in some cases, gratitude can be taken too far. When we find ourselves overly thankful, it can deny us our power — particularly for women.

“Women can be ‘too grateful’ in the workplace for a variety of reasons. When some women go after positions that are typically male-dominated or considered a ‘stretch’ for them, they are usually surprised when presented with an offer and become overly cautious when doing their jobs,” explains Jackie Mitchell, a certified professional career and life coach.

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A key problem is that from a young age, women are conditioned to feel grateful for opportunities that their male counterparts expect to get. For example, a woman in a high position in STEM may feel thankful for their job, so much so that they overlook how qualified they are — or that they deserve their success.

“Being overly grateful can extend into adulthood when we’re presented with more opportunities we feel in awe of,” Mitchell adds. “Since we are also taught to be humble and likeable, certain behaviours can be misapplied and have the opposite effect.”

Feeling overly grateful can also be linked to “imposter syndrome,” a pervasive feeling of fraudulence in which you doubt your skills and abilities, despite overwhelming evidence saying otherwise. Lots of people experience impostor syndrome but experts have long found that women are more likely to suffer from it more intensely.

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In a survey of 300 senior executives by Heriot-Watt University and the School for CEOs in 2019, more than half (54%) of women frequently experienced “imposter feelings” compared to a quarter of men. Impostor syndrome can also hit women more intensely in certain professions, particularly in fields where they’re underrepresented.

Feeling too grateful can play into our fears and insecurities, which can hold women back in several ways.

“Being ‘too grateful’ simply can cause stagnation. We can be so grateful that we don’t want to rock the boat or be seen as too outspoken. We’ll sit back and not advocate for ourselves,” Mitchell explains.

In addition, feeling thankful for the good can sometimes leave us trapped with the bad. Feeling overly grateful for a steady income might mean you make compromises that impact you negatively in other ways, such as putting up with a toxic boss.

“We will accept bad behaviour even if we’re unhappy and unsatisfied with the situation,” Mitchell says. “We might also accept salaries that are way below our expectations because we’re just happy to have the offer.”

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This isn’t to say that sincere gratitude shouldn’t be expressed at work, however. Showing appreciation can go a long way when it comes to boosting morale, especially if you’re in a management position.

Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. According to a 2019 survey of 1,500 workers conducted by Reward Gateway, an employee engagement platform, 75% agreed that motivation and company morale would improve if managers simply thanked workers in real-time for a job well done.

However, it’s important to remember that you can feel both grateful and proud of your achievements at the same time.

“We can look at our accomplishments and say to ourselves, and to others, that we’ve done a great job and that we deserve all that we want,” says Mitchell.

“Being grateful has its place. Just don’t overdo it. You are deserving because you have the skills and abilities to be, do, or have anything you want. When it comes to the workplace, you were chosen for the unique value you bring. Don’t downplay that because with giving too much gratitude, you forget who you are.”

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