Creating a Culture of Gratitude in the Workplace

 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Cicero

 

As we
approach the holiday season, lots of heart-felt stories about kindness
and giving start to appear.  Tis’ the season, so to speak.   It’s a time
when even the busiest and most cynical among us pause (even if only for
a short time) and reflect.   But too often, the feelings of gratitude
that the holiday spirit may generate are focused only on family and
friends.  Gratitude, after all, is not an emotion most of us associate
with the workplace.

 But what if gratitude were commonplace in the workplace?

What do you
think the impact of a culture of gratitude would be on well-being,
relationships, cooperation, stress, creativity, performance and
productivity?

Gratitude is a powerful emotion
A growing body of research within the past decade has demonstrated the
significant physiological benefits to those experiencing gratitude.
 Studies at the University of California (Davis) and the University of
Miami showed that experiencing gratitude balanced hormonal levels and
led to the release of DHEA, “the anti-aging hormone.”  Gratitude also
boosts the immune system by increasing the LgA antibody.  These studies
found that engaging in daily “gratitude exercises” can raise the level
of positive feelings.

 When
we activate and experience emotions like gratitude and appreciation,
they can become more like our “default” emotions because neural networks
are reinforced through repeated experience.   

 The mounting evidence shows that “gratitude
represents the quintessential positive personality trait, being an
indicator of a worldview oriented towards noticing and appreciating the
positive in life.”
(Journal of Personality and Individual Difference)

 According to research at the Institute for Heart Math,
“true feelings of gratitude, appreciation and other positive emotions
can synchronize brain and heart rhythms, creating a body wide shift to a
scientifically measurable state called coherence. In this optimal
state, the body’s systems function more efficiently, generating a
greater balance of emotions and increased mental clarity and brain
function.”

 There’s
no question that cultivating more gratitude and appreciation has a
positive effect on the person experiencing it – but what about its
effect on others? And does infusing a workplace culture with gratitude
result in more positive outcomes?

 

Gratitude is a Great Motivator of Behavior

 Some interesting new studies are beginning to show the impact of gratitude and reciprocity.   In a recent study published in
the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, the effect of a job
applicant’s gratitude was examined.   A fictional student named “Eric,”
emailed 69 participants a request for help with his application.  Only
half were thanked by Eric as a response to their help.  While only 32%
of those with no thank-you helped Eric with his 2nd request for help, 66% of those who received thanks responded positively to his request.

In other studies, gratitude played a
definite role in increasing positive responses within business settings.
For example, one experiment found that customers of a jewelry store who
were called and thanked showed an increase of 70% in future purchases. 
And ever notice that boldly written “Thank You” on the check your
server leaves at your table? There’s a reason that idea is catching on.
Customers who are thanked leave bigger tips!

Creating Organizational Cultures of Gratitude

“Maybe I shouldn’t let the cat out of
the bag, but the practice of gratitude is subversive. Gratitude is
subversive because it changes relationships, especially those in
organizations where hierarchy rules. Gratitude is subversive because it
affirms and validates the importance of our connections to one another.”
                                                 Ed Brenegar, Weekly Leader

 Many
of the workplace cultures of today send mixed signals to their
employees.  While engagement is a big buzzword and most organizations
recognize they can’t maintain high levels of productivity without it,
people report they feel disconnected and unappreciated.   In a recent
Gallup Poll 65% of participants said they did not feel appreciated at
work.  Despite growing productivity rates, higher numbers of workers
still express disengagement, low-morale and resentment. 

 While
gratitude is not a panacea for real structural problems within an
organization, gratitude and recognition can play an important role in
strengthening relational connections between colleagues.   This can
serve to build communication, collaboration and shared responsibility.

 In their book, “How Full is Your Bucket
co-authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton use the metaphor of a bucket and
a dipper.  The bucket contains positive emotions – and keeping your bucket full  to
overflowing is the key.  When we engage our “negative” emotions we
empty our own buckets – and deplete the buckets of others.

 Because so many of our workplace relationships and cultures are fear-based and
riddled with emotions like resentment, anger, jealousy and mistrust, 
we are not accustomed to real praise, recognition and appreciation.   As
such, we’ve got to go beyond mere politeness, civility and perfunctory
thanks to really fill those buckets. It’s got to be perceived and
experienced as real.  

 Gratitude Puts Values Into Action 

To truly practice gratitude and to have that gratitude be experienced
as authentic often requires a change of mindset – on our part and among
others. This can take time. No magic formulas here.  Sometimes if all
we can muster towards others is respect for their humanness, we start
there.

Often we have to dig a little deeper to find what is right – what is
working – in ourselves, others and in the workplace. We have to get out
of our preoccupation with the future – and begin to have a greater
appreciation of the Now.  Right now, right here in this moment, what can I appreciate – what can I be grateful for?

Maybe now is the time to write that thank-you note, help someone out
who hasn’t asked, or treat that colleague to lunch or their favorite
drink?

The power of appreciation and
gratitude is especially felt on the holidays and during special times in
our lives, but we can enrich our lives and contribute to creating
healthier and more satisfying workplace cultures by practicing a little
every day.

 Special Note:
As we approach our near year’s anniversary for this blog, we want to
THANK each and every reader for your time, your comments, tweets and
shares.  We’re grateful for your interest and hope that what we share
benefits you – even if just a little!

Thanks again for being part of this
conversation – please take another minute to share your thoughts by
leaving a comment – and sharing this post with others. In the spirit of giving thanks, we also ask that you take a look at our Giving Back Blogroll. There are some wonderful organizations listed that can really use your help!

Louise & George Altman, Intentional Communication Partners

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