During the holidays, it’s only natural to turn our thoughts to gratitude. After all, it’s what this time of year is all about. It’s also a time of traditions; a time to turn off electronics, a time to learn how to bake your great grandmother’s gingerbread cookies, to remember the important people in your life. But what actually creates that aura of togetherness when sitting around the holiday dinner table? For many, it’s taking part in the long-standing tradition of declaring the year’s blessings to one another. It’s no secret that sharing gratitude creates good feelings; the warm and fuzzy stuff provides an increased sense of optimism.
Earlier this season, before you sat down to enjoy a generous helping of your Aunt Mary’s candied yams at Thanksgiving, perhaps you shared your appreciation for the support and encouragement of loved ones. Maybe it was the opportunity to travel somewhere new in 2015? Perhaps you’re grateful that someone helped you achieve a new personal goal. But riddle me this – did you save some of those thank yous for people at work? Will you take the time now before the holiday zazzle and parties kick in? Yes, you read that right…workplace gratitude. Some companies are lightyears ahead of other organizations when it comes to hopping on the co-worker tribute train. Here at PeopleFirm we have a Wall of Gratitude, a place where members of the firm “spread the love” and give thanks and praise to one another. We also have a program we call PF Buck$; each of us is given cash at the beginning of the year to spontaneously thank co-workers when they’ve gone above and beyond for us. Over the last few years here I’ve come to enjoy expressing my gratefulness for coworkers in such a public way, but it wasn’t always the case. Several years ago the concept of proclaiming my personal gratitude towards those in my immediate professional sphere felt unusual…and slightly taboo.
Why is showing gratitude at work so weirdly complicated? Elsewhere in life we say “thank you” easily to acknowledge the good things we receive from other people, especially when they’re given out of the kindness of their hearts. We say “thanks” at home and in our children’s schools, in stores and within our spiritual communities. But it almost seems like an unwritten rule that one should not utter those two words at the office. In fact, according to Sue Shellenbarger’s recently article in the WSJ, the workplace ranks dead last among the places people express appreciation.1
But can things change?
Psychology Today states that American’s growing fascination with the field of positive psychology proves that we crave gratitude at work, both giving and receiving. Recent research shows that bosses who take time to recognize and appreciate their direct reports are more likely to succeed, and only 18 percent thought that gratitude made bosses seem weak. Most reported that hearing “thank you” at work made them feel both enhanced and motivated.2
So we all agree that saying “thank you” to colleagues makes us feel happier and more fulfilled — but the reality is that on a given day, only 10 percent of us act on that impulse. A stunning 60-percent (per a recent Gallup’ study) said either they “never express gratitude at work, or do so perhaps once a year.”1 In short, this issue is more than employees just forgetting manners 101. This is us actively suppressing gratitude on the job, even to the point of robbing ourselves of happiness. What’s up with that?
It may be because, in theory, no one gives away anything at work; every exchange is fundamentally economic. A common attitude from the corner office is that “we thank people around here: it’s called a paycheck.” Or maybe it’s because leaders are not modeling the right behaviors. The bossman is the single most powerful factor in employee attitudes. If the boss never says thanks, a culture is likely to develop that emphasizes the negative, such as one where people sit around and complain. Next stop: no-gratitude zone.
It’s clear as day: giving thanks is healthy, and gratitude is power. It creates good feelings, cheerful memories, better self-esteem, more optimism, and a stronger sense of unity. It goes beyond the individual; there’s a spillover effect as teammates become more trusting with each other, and thus more likely to help each other out.3 So, what are some simple ways infuse more of that into workplace culture? Here are some tips:
- Don’t wait to be grateful. Regardless of your position in an organization, cultivate gratitude as a core part of your work – on a regular basis.
- Be humble. We all need to be grateful for the team that powers the engine of our business.
- Acknowledge that our success depends on others. A grateful employee is a smarter employee. It helps improve your standing in a team to admit that you don’t know everything, and that everything you’ve ever learned that’s made you successful has come from someone or something else.
- Be sincere. In many cases, being grateful can be disarming. As a leader or a team member, when you are thankful and express it – sincerely and frequently – it will often make people stop in their tracks… and soon coworkers will mirror your efforts.
In a world where organizations take on new transformational projects – both big and small – on the daily, gratitude is becoming more and more important. Practicing workplace gratitude helps build that positive, healthy work environment that allows people to embrace change, and excel in periods of higher stress. This month, let’s all consider how being appreciative at work can help make our organizations more successful. A thank you to your colleagues doesn’t have to be a big show. Impressed with someone on your team? Send them a brief, hand-written note. You’re an Excel spreadsheet genius? Offer to color code pivot tables when your coworker needs it most. And as always, continue to work hard and produce amazing results for other people too – be the person who not only appreciates the value others add, but who adds incredible value to others too. If together we create more positivity in our respective environments, we will be amazed at what we receive in return.
1 Showing Appreciation at the Office? No, Thanks http://centerforfaithandwork.com/article/showing-appreciation-office-no-thanks
2 Psychology Today, 2014, Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T. & Kolts, R. L. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being. Behaviour and Personality, 31 (5), 431-452.
3 Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, (2), 377-389.
About the author:
Claire Durrell, PeopleFirm
Claire brings her approachable and diplomatic style to PeopleFirm after serving in both internal and external consulting roles in a variety of industry settings. Claire possesses expertise in organizational effectiveness techniques and strategic workforce planning, and has seen her work result in improved productivity, efficiency and teamwork. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Claire is known for her ability to steadfastly negotiate agreement between polarized stakeholder groups with empathy and resilience. In fact, “The Claire Way” has become a touchstone phrase to her clients, representing an approach that includes compassion, humor, rigor and results.
PeopleFirm is a management and HR consulting firm dedicated to helping you achieve that ultimate win-win: inspired people driving inspiring performance. We focus on effective tools, measurable outcomes, real results, and getting your people out of their seats and engaged in your company’s growth. We use people strategy, talent management, organizational performance, and change management, to help you partner with your people to build an organization that excels in today’s new world of work. People are your last competitive frontier. Make them count.
Your people = your success.