Gratitude-A Culture Strategy

Thanksgiving is a traditional time of year we stop and metaphorically “smell the roses” giving thanks and appreciation for what we have. What if gratitude were a strategy for better work as well as a better life?

It can be. Especially in the areas where entitlement and low engagement are an issue. Gratitude increases positive emotions that rebalance entitlement and drives prosocial behavior that increases contribution and helpfulness.

Entitlement is an attitude about what we have a right to and what we expect from others. When this gets out of balance, we believe we deserve much more than others. We don’t appreciate and are dissatisfied with what we do receive in the way of a better position, better pay or recognition.

In the workplace, people with a sense of excessive entitlement are likely to be aggressive, threaten and blame others along with other counterproductive behaviors. Alternatively, an attitude of gratitude produces higher levels of positive emotions that counter the negative emotions that feed a toxic workplace culture. Gratitude also lowers levels of hostility and aggression.

Additionally, gratitude inspires employees to be more helpful, more likely to volunteer, to mentor, be compassionate and encouraging. Grateful employees give their best with a sense of their own wellbeing. They are more committed to their organization’s goals and values and are more motivated to contribute to the organization’s success.

Gratefulness can be applied in a myriad of ways at work.  We can model it as leaders and message it in our communications. Here are a few tips:

Specific, genuine appreciation– In the book The Leadership Challenge, the authors note that Rachel Argaman, the CEO of TFE Hotels, a leading accommodation provider across Australia, New Zealand and Europe, writes a personal note on each person’s annual bonus letter, a task that takes her 4 full days. For each employee, she references something they did that made a difference and then writes, “I’m saying thank you.” The authors go on to say research shows that recognizing performance impacts employee engagement at a rate of two to one. This same research finds strong recognition is linked to employees who are more innovative and generate two times the number of ideas per month compared with those who receive weak recognition.

Problem Solving– I’ve witnessed the success my coaching clients have had influencing workplace culture for the better by changing the tone of their conversations from dissatisfaction about what’s not working to gratitude for what is working. From a structured meeting to a casual dialogue, get in the habit of appreciating and recognizing what is good and works well before you discuss what needs to be improved. The resulting flow of positive emotions engenders more openness, flexibility, creativity and innovation on everyone’s part. It also creates an environment that helps everyone tackle the issue in a more solutions-oriented way.

Study Gratitude- Read the research and learn more about the power of gratitude and how it pays off in productivity, profitability, absenteeism and other cost and performance metrics. Here is a great article to start with: How Gratitude Can Transform Your Workplace, from The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Try reading The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks, by Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Lab Director of the Emmons Lab at the University of California, Davis and the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude.

I’d like to say that gratefulness doesn’t cost anything, but it does. It costs us our patterns of ungratefulness and for some people changing an old and ingrained pattern is too big a price to pay. If this sounds like you, heed these words from Dr. Emmons, “You cannot overplay the hand of gratitude; the grateful mind reaps massive benefits in every domain of life that has been examined so far. There are countless ways in which gratitude could pay off in the workplace. As I wrote in The Little Book of Gratitude, gratitude is the ultimate performance-enhancing substance.”

As we come upon our traditional time of year to say thanks and be grateful for what we have, let’s take a lesson from such a time-honored tradition in American culture and put gratitude to good use in our workplaces. The best that can happen is more productive, engaged and encouraged employees.

Thank you for reading this blog post. Your time and attention are genuinely appreciated as I know you could have spent them elsewhere. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jo-Aynne von Born, Certified Professional Coach

Executive Coaching, Strategy, Corporate Training

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