Gratitude in the Workplace
With Thanksgiving behind us in the U.S. and Canada (we celebrated ours in October) and Giving Tuesday upon us, I am reminded how valuable gratitude is in our personal and professional lives.
As a positive psychology coach, gratitude is a core tool in my toolkit. Gratitude has been scientifically shown to be effective in reducing stress, enhancing personal well-being and building positive social relationships (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2692821). In her book: The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky describes gratitude as a meta-strategy for achieving happiness.
In my work with organizations, gratitude is a practice that resets this negativity balance. This positivity shift can lead to lower workplace turnover, greater pro-social behavior and higher rates of job satisfaction.
I am reminded of a healthcare team I worked with a year ago. They were a smart, caring and skilled bunch of employees who needed some help. The teams’ productivity and morale were plummeting and the high team turnover had management taking notice.
I had been asked to come in and help the group work more effectively together. The organization that hired me wanted to see this team communicate more openly and collaborate more regularly. I started with an opening exercise to help the group focus on what was already working well. With a marker in hand and a blank flip chart next to me, I was poised to capture their thoughts and ideas. I openly listened to the group share their opinions, ranging from, “This won’t work” to “My counterpart isn’t here and let’s face it, these problems are bigger than we are.” When a senior team member at the back of the room said “We are far too busy to put any of this into practice,” I knew I had to quickly change my approach.
The human bias towards negativity is a critical survival mechanism that is often in overdrive in the workplace. Unchecked, negativity can result is impaired interpersonal relationships, poor performance dissatisfaction and complete disengagement at work.
I invited everyone in the room to park their objections for the duration of our half-day coaching session. They agreed to my challenge and we spent the morning working through an appreciative inquiry process.
I met back with the team two weeks later. Before I could get the groups attention the conversation had already started. One of the team leads (who in fact had remained completely silent in the first session), offered her observations from a department meeting she had just attended. “I was really proud of how JP stepped forward to help the rest of the team when she already had so much on her plate. In spite of the challenges we were facing during the meeting, everyone remained positive and supportive. Thank you for that.” A new conversation started.
Could it be that simple?
Yes, it can.
Gratitude has the power to change everything. It helps us see opportunities that exists in every situation. It reveals resources that previously seemed invisible.
Gratitude is contagious.
So how can you build more gratitude in your work, your teams and your organization?
- Start meetings with a standing agenda item: What’s working? Allocate three to five minutes of each of your meetings to this agenda item.
- Thank peers, direct reports, support team members, even your boss on a regular basis. Provide a short but concrete explanation to accompany the praise.
- Celebrate small, quick wins. Acknowledge the smallest positive steps and consider rewarding effort over output.
- Catch people when they are engaging in positive behaviour and express appreciation as the event is unfolding if possible rather than in a performance evaluation weeks or months later.
- If you want to enhance your gratitude practice, consider the “What-Went-Well” Exercise that Martin Seligman describes in his book: Flourish. A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.
At the end of each day list three things that went well for you today and why they went well.
Elevate this experience even further by asking the question:
What role did I play in having this happen?
The research shows that engaging in this activity daily for at least a week will result in higher levels of happiness, an increased sense of optimism for the future and will possibly even decrease depression.
Gratitude requires no planning or budget, yet it might bring out the very best in your employees and that is good for business.
What are you grateful for at work?