Do you wonder if gratitude belongs at work? Doesn’t competition mean I need to keep a guarded attitude with my co-workers?
Over the last fifteen years, researchers have studied the effects of gratitude on health, well-being, and organizational culture. The consensus is that gratitude makes an enormous personal and corporate difference.
For example, researchers studying positive psychology discovered that even one act of purposeful gratitude can immediately create a 10% increase in happiness and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. Those benefits disappear within mere months which highlights the importance of creating habits of gratitude.
Three types of gratitude
An Italian study discovered there are three types of gratitude needed to create a positive impact on workplace culture in terms of job performance and job satisfaction:
#1: Dispositional gratitude
Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude scholar, identifies many physical, psychological, and social benefits to personal gratitude. For instance, employees who practice gratitude are more satisfied in their work, have fewer health issues, and higher job performance.
#2: Relational gratitude
When employees reflect thankfulness to one another and especially when bosses appreciate the work and impact of employees trust and team performance will increase.
#3: Collective gratitude
If a company practices collective gratitude, like celebrating successes and appreciating performance, job performance will increase, turnover rates decrease, sick days decrease, and company loyalty increases.
The dark side of gratitude
But gratitude won’t fix your company culture overnight and it can’t solve every problem. For example, gratitude can also create blindspots. If a leader highly rewards certain employees or creates immense opportunities for them, it can become easy to ignore his weaknesses or questionable behaviors.
Additionally, forced or inauthentic gratitude often leads to increased feelings of failure or hopelessness (according to Sile Walsh). For instance, have you ever attended a going-away party for someone everyone is glad to see leave? The words of thanks can feel very empty.
In a former life I worked as a pastor. I remember conducting a funeral for someone who clearly had made some enemies. No one said it publicly, but in private the bitter feelings abounded. You can’t expect people to become thankful instantly.
Another dark side of gratitude is when leaders weaponize gratitude. Researchers Inna Ksenofontov and Julia C Becker observed, “Within intergroup contexts, thankful responses from low-power to high-power group members could solidify the power hierarchy.”
5 ways to create a culture of gratitude
Even if there’s a dark side of gratitude, the benefits by far outweigh the risks. Here are five ways to create a culture of gratitude at work.
#1: Teach gratefulness at work
Many people have created resources for teaching gratefulness on the personal level. I’m even running a faith-based Gratitude Challenge.
At a simple level, teaching employees four basic practices will have a profound impact over time:
a) Count your blessings – notice the good things in your life. Try writing down three things daily for which you can be thankful.
b) Savor the good – either through fasting or taking your time, delight in those things in your life you enjoy the most.
c) Keep a gratitude journal – the last things we think about during the day will be what we dwell upon as we sleep. Make those grateful thoughts and you’ll sleep better.
d) Write thank you cards – in a day when people rarely write thank you cards this will stand out. But it also forces you to “thank thoughtfully” and “think thankfully.”
I remember Dave Kerpen (TAG) ended his keynote address at our conference by handing out thank you cards and having us write and mail a card to someone. It was profound. Pete Vargas (TAG) starts his conferences by having attendees take out their phones and send a thank you message to the person (boss, spouse, etc..) who made it possible for them to attend that conference.
#2: Start meetings with gratitude
I recently started a team meeting by celebrating each person with a “word gift.” We each shared three attributes we loved about each of our team members. Privately the team members thanked me for the profound difference that made.
What if you took one minute each meeting to celebrate a success or a person? It requires some thoughtfulness in advance, but the rewards will be cumulative.
#3: Engage in acts of appreciation at work
Whether through a company meeting, a newsletter, or a staff Facebook group, take time to celebrate small and large successes. Acknowledge effort, notice people, and highlight results–even if you didn’t meet a goal.
TIP: If you’re a boss, can I encourage you to wrap your words of correction with words of praise and thanks? Your employees will receive the correction more openly and will know you have their best interest at heart when they know you see them as a whole person.
#4: Share customer success stories regularly
In most companies your frontline employees hear the customer successes and complaints daily, but many employees feel disconnected from the impact you’re having. Take time regularly to highlight success stories. It encourages, motivates, and inspires.
#5: Create a work gratitude journal
Just like an individual can benefit from keeping a gratitude journal, so can a team or a company. Imagine taking time quarterly or annually to review the things for which you’ve been grateful over the prior period. We often have our nose to the grindstone so much that we don’t step back to see how far we’ve come.
Our CEO writes a monthly update in which he highlights some of our successes, but I’ll confess I’ve never taken the time to read those all together. That would be valuable!
For most of us, we spent the majority of our waking hours at work. What if we felt grateful about the work we do, the people we work with, and the things we accomplish? How much more energized would you feel at the end of each day?
I challenge you to select one of these 5 methods and focus on it for the next month. Watch and see what happens.
How does it work for you?
Please share any tips or ideas for how gratitude works in your office
Father, I thank you that you created me to work and you delight in my work. I want to do all my work for you and give you thanks for providing me the skills and opportunities to do it. Teach me to be grateful for the people around me, even those who rub me the wrong way. May I be a light through my work. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.