Forward thinking: Gratitude at work

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Please and Thank You

As a child, my parents stressed the importance of these words when speaking with others – especially adults. They had a magical quality about them. Remember the question, “What do you say?” And the answers were invariably either “please” or “thank you,” or sometimes both.

For whatever reason, I grew up believing that we used those “special words” to acknowledge the good things I got from people, especially when they gave out of the goodness of their hearts. It was customary to say “thanks” at home and in school, in stores and at church.

As I grew older and entered the work place, I became increasingly aware that expressing appreciation or gratitude seldom happened in the work place. I have puzzled over this for a lot of years.

Were employees not thankful for their jobs? Did workers feel that it was inappropriate to receive or express appreciation at their place of employment? Did people feel that it was out of order to express positive feed-back since they were getting paid to do a specific job or function? Were they afraid that if they expressed any gratitude that their coworkers would take advantage of them or think less of them?

I have reflected on all the above questions and others many times over. Expressing appreciation doesn’t cost a dime, and it has beneficial effects.

In fact, my observation has been that benefits of gratitude go beyond a sense of self-worth, self-efficacy and trust between employees. In fact, I would say that people who express appreciation and gratitude are generally happier across the board.

Furthermore, people who receive accolades are happier as well. I would even go so far as to say that the expression of gratitude has a spill-over effect. Individuals become more trusting with each other and more likely to help each other out. Over all mental health is improved. Headaches are experienced less frequently and stress is greatly reduced.
I don’ know the situation at your place of work. However, I will quickly tell you that building a culture of gratitude is not easy, but it is worth it. So, I want to share a few tips on fostering gratitude on the job.

Tip no. 1: START AT THE TOP.

Employees need to hear “thank you” from the boss first. It is up to people with power and position to clearly, consistently, and authentically say “thank you” in both public and private settings. This is particularly true in a workplace with a history of ingratitude.

These efforts can also be translated in to protocols and procedures. For example, when an employee retires or changes employment; performance reviews and staff meetings.

Tip no. 2: THANK PEOPLE WHO NEVER GET THANKED.

Every organization has a class of employees that hogs all the glory. In hospitals, it’s the doctors. At universities, it’s faculty. Every organization has high profile individuals. But what about those who cut checks, submit invoices, write copy, mop the floors and take out the trash?

Thanking those who do thankless tasks is crucial. They are the glue that holds the organization together day in and day out – and needless to say, it improves the morale and increases trust.

Tip no. 3: AIM FOR QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY.

Forcing people to be grateful does not work. It feeds the power of imbalances that undermine gratitude in the first place, and it can make expressions of gratitude feel inauthentic.

The key is to create times and spaces that foster the voluntary, spontaneous expression of gratitude. You want to avoid overdoing it – trying to be grateful everyday induces gratitude fatigue. But when you do convey authenticity, details are important. It tells a person that you are paying attention, rather than just going through the motions.

Tip no. 4: PROVIDE MANY OPPORTUNITIES FOR GRATITUDE.

When people are thanked for their work, they are more likely to increase their helping behavior and to provide help to others. But not everyone likes to be thanked or to say “thank you” in public. They may be shy or genuinely modest.

The key is to create numerous kinds of opportunities for gratitude.

Some examples might be “Kudos” webpage that publicly highlights contributions, or put up a bulletin board sometimes called the “Great Wall” that highlights people not things or projects. Gift-giving is another way to foster gratitude. This can have an important effect on working relationships and reciprocity – and non-monetary gifts are the most beneficial of all.

Tip no. 5: IN TIMES OF CRISIS, TAKE TIME FOR THANKSGIVING.

Cultivating a culture of gratitude might be the best way to help a workplace prepare for stresses that come with change, conflict and failure. Making gratitude a policy and a practice “builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall.” This is true both in times of minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.

In other words, gratitude helps employees see beyond the one disaster and recognize their gain or benefit. It provides them with a tool “to transform an obstacle into an opportunity.”

Somewhere along the way, when I was working as a consultant, I came up with a series of questions to help people and organizations recover from difficult experiences which I adapted for the workplace. They are as follows:

• What lessons did the experience teach us?
• Can we find ways to be thankful for what happened to us now, even though we were not at the time it happened?
• What ability did the experience draw out of us that surprised us?
• Are there ways we have become a better workplace because of it?
• Has the experience removed an obstacle that previously prevented us from feeling grateful?

In closing, I ask you: Do you personally have an aversion to expressing gratitude at your place of employment? From your perspective, does your work place promote or encourage a culture of gratitude?

Research indicates that Americans are less likely to say “thanks” on the job than anywhere else. Such an attitude hurts productivity and happiness. That needs to change. I encourage you to be part of the solution and not add to the problem.

Until next time…

Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is also a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.

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