in the workplace
Gratitude practices: simple steps to powerful results in the workplace
November tends to make our thoughts turn to thankfulness and expressions of gratitude as we plan to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’re introduced to gratitude in childhood, when we learn to say thank you for things or kindnesses received, but it doesn’t need to stop there; it has a role to play in the workplace as well as at the Thanksgiving table. Today, the study of gratitude is a popular topic across several fields of research, including happiness, productivity, culture, and health. As an everyday action, rather than just a once-a-year activity, the simple practice of gratitude benefits both individuals and the organizations in which they work.
Reflecting on the year so far, gratitude may not be the first thought that comes to mind. The pandemic and the enforced isolation experienced by people everywhere have made us more keenly aware of the ties that connect us to one another, and an appreciation for community. Teams have been stretched to maintain focus, unity, and clear communications. Meetings that were once sacrosanct have been suspended or shortened as priorities shifted. We hadn’t realized how much the small daily exchanges with shopkeepers, distant acquaintances, and random coworkers balanced and enriched our lives until we found ourselves stranded at home, deeply craving connection.
Research studies, like those conducted by Glenn Fox of the University of California, explore the science of gratitude and the effects gratitude has on the brain. His work, and that of others, highlights the benefits a person can derive from adopting regular practices of gratitude, such as potentially better health and increased ability to connect with others to build deeper social connections.
Incorporating practices of gratitude into our routine is one way to help develop and restore strong connections, whether we operate in a work-from-home situation or workplace setting. Harvard Medical School has reported that expressing gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions and that in turn promotes stronger relationships, improved health, and greater ability to handle adversity. These outcomes all improve our ability to be effective employees and better team members.
Practicing gratitude can be as simple as routinely spending time daily writing out a short list of what people, experiences, things, relationships or activities you’re grateful for, or taking time to convey words of thanks directly to another person, aloud or in writing. Don’t expect overnight success, but with repeated practice, you may find that your outlook is becoming more positive and less anxious. This action takes your eyes off yourself and makes it easier for you to recognize blessings in your day. As an employee, we can approach each workday with more balance, and a greater sense of appreciation for others. We’re better equipped to handle events and circumstances that arise.
Relationships are at the heart of any organization. Strong social connections promote psychological health, more positive emotions, and greater resilience—all factors that enhance the workplace environment. Gratitude pushes us to look outside of ourselves, to focus more on others and their favorable attributes; it requires humility also to recognize our interconnectedness and that many of the good things we experience in life have come to us through others. These are powerful elements in team building, collaboration, and developing resilient relationships.
Research on psychologically healthy workplaces draws attention to positive practices that these cultures embody and the advantages of these work environments. Healthy workplace attributes include work-life balance, support, and interpersonal relationships. Within a workplace characterized by positive practices, employees tend to be more satisfied and engaged and have a stronger sense of well-being. An organization’s overall performance–better quality work, higher productivity, and the like—is positioned to improve as positive workplace behaviors go up.
Workplace cultures that help people to thrive by supporting their goals, personal growth and well-being—showing appreciation for the individual–are widely valued. Leadership and gratitude can be connected in multiple ways. By employing practices that help individuals develop habits of gratitude, for their own well-being and to help to keep a positive culture going within the organization. And as an organization, we can express—with sincerity—our gratitude in actions, words, and practices, to those we employ.
While gratitude may not be a magic bullet for every set of conditions we face in life or in the workplace, research indicates that the benefits are real. As with any cultural shift, leaders have the opportunity and responsibility to take the first step. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.”
Nancy Owsianowski, Founder
RoundTable Consulting, LLC
Nancy Owsianowski is the Founder of RoundTable Consulting where her relational, insightful approach transforms teams, leaders, and organizations. Find Nancy on LinkedIn or reach out to her to learn more about authentic leadership and her coaching, facilitation, and training services.