The annual World Economic Forum at Davos has been postponed from January 2022 to summer. The Netherlands imposed strict lockdowns until mid-January. Broadway shows are closed, companies are delaying return to office plans and canceling holiday parties. In the fight to control the spread of Omicron, public and private groups alike have had to make swift adjustments just before the year-end holiday season.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, nerves are frayed as we navigate changing rules and restrictions. While it may seem challenging to feel thankful at this time, I believe it is more important to practice gratitude.
The practice of gratitude is often associated with happiness (though not necessarily a causal link). Individuals who feel gratitude have better mental health and are more resilient to face challenges. Gratitude can lead to empathy, resulting in individuals wanting to help others and behave altruistically, even delaying short term financial rewards.
At a group level, building a culture of gratitude and empathy can create an organization of happy employees. As we know, happier employees tend to be more engaged and productive at work. A Wharton study found that when employees felt appreciated, they tended to be more motivated, a case for how creating a positive impact for employees creates business value and a positive impact for investors.
Showing appreciation improves relationships. When individuals practice gratitude with each other, this increases positive feelings and trust that creates a safe space for the group to share concerns when problems arise. They assume positive intent, leading to an openness to giving and receiving positive and critical feedback—another win for businesses to foster such practice at work.
Gratitude also creates a sense of belonging. In addition to building connections and enabling contribution to develop a sense of belonging at work discussed in last week’s post, organizations that incorporate giving thanks can reduce isolation and loneliness. As high as 40 percent of people reported feeling ignored and isolated at work. Especially in remote work settings, it is harder to surprise your coworker with coffee or offer help as a sign of appreciation when you don't physically see each other.
What is Gratitude?
When we consciously count our blessings, we shift away from resentment and envy—we see abundance in what we have and tend to be kinder to others. Employees display less bad behavior with a culture of gratitude at work—less rudeness, gossip, and ostracism—and more self-control. But when team members are stressed and ruminate on the negative, they are more likely to mistreat their coworkers. Participants in a study who kept a gratitude journal seemed to be more mindful and conscious of their behavior, resulting in more prosocial behavior and enhanced feelings of support in the organization.
So what is gratitude? It is an emotion that arises when someone gives us something or does something for us that positively impacts us. It is not the token Thank You that we automatically or mindlessly place at the end of emails (that's done more out of courtesy and politeness). In effect, it is positive feedback—what precisely did the person do or behave that you found terrific.
More critically, gratitude is a conscious practice and a frame of mind that you can cultivate. This mindfulness practice is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, starts his morning by setting his feet on the floor and saying what he is thankful for. This moment of mindfulness when he looks for the positive enables him to look forward, set the day's intention, and start with optimism and abundance.
How to Develop A Culture of Gratitude?
On a group level, showing appreciation to coworkers means recognizing an individual's diversity and uniqueness. Regular check-ins and getting to know coworkers personally will inform us how each person likes to be appreciated. We should be grateful for each person's unique contribution and perspective and understand that they may have their preference in the way they are thanked.
Some may prefer to be acknowledged publicly, while others prefer additional time off or a bonus. Leaders can show appreciation by conducting regular market research on salaries and rewarding employees appropriately. Managers can recognize their team's efforts by investing in their development, upskilling, and further education.
Even when organizations understand the positive impact of showing appreciation to employees, leaders may not do the practice right—it should not only be a once-a-year affair, and leaders should give thanks authentically. Practicing gratitude flows not just from manager to direct reports but between peers, suppliers, partners, customers, and clients.
Leaders can role model the behavior of thoughtfully and consciously thanking others instead of following a carefully crafted script or template. Managers can encourage the shift away from publicizing one's own achievements to publicizing thanks to others for their contribution, particularly for invisible or unseen work. Which coworker invested their time to test the new platform tool? Which colleague planned the last team event? Highlight and show appreciation for behaviors valued by the company, such as collaboration, courage, and creativity.
What are Examples of Gratitude Practices?
A mindful way to start a meeting could be to ask each participant to think consciously about what they are grateful for and how this has positively impacted them. To end projects, team members can take turns sitting in the middle of the room while the others share what they appreciated about the particular team member. This is a generous way of giving positive feedback authentically. Set up a Slack channel or community board where peers practice giving credit generously where it is due for others' contribution.
In saying Thank You, be specific about what the person did and what exactly you appreciate. For example, "Thank You for the feedback you gave during the workshop, that showed courage and thoughtful insight."
The practice of gratitude, like all practices, is a muscle to be developed and strengthened. Be patient to realize the benefits and to invest in building the culture. Better mental health and a sense of belonging may not be created overnight but have long-term effects. On an individual basis, thinking about the list of things we are grateful for can lift our moods. For companies, regular and simple acts such as acknowledging individual contributions can go a long way to creating a positive business value.