Culture Tip 5: Gratitude in the Workplace Trickles Down

There has been a lot of research about the benefits of gratitude: Improved sleep, reduced depression, better physical health and better

Gratitude starts with the leader. happy_serenity flickr commons

Gratitude starts with the leader.
happy_serenity flickr commons

relationships. Research shows that just saying “Thank you” increases the recipient’s desire to make a further connection with you. I’m thinking about this, of course, because it’s Thanksgiving week and for some people Thanksgiving feels awkward because they must suddenly think in terms of being grateful. They need to concoct an official list of things they’re thankful for, and their gratitude muscles may be so atrophied it turns out to require a considerable effort. In fact, work is one of the last places people tend to express their gratitude. Employers often, sadly, see the bi-weekly paycheck as their expression of thanks, which it isn’t. It is pay for services rendered; that’s not the same as gratitude. In fact, for some people, the folks who wait their table at dinner may get more “Thank you”s than their employees. So what should a leader do to increase the wonderful benefits of gratitude in the workplace?

First and foremost, begin with yourself. Don’t go out and announce “We’re going to cultivate a culture of gratitude in the workplace!” and start demanding that people thank each other on some quota basis. This isn’t something where you go in and dictate a culture change, no matter how much your organization may need it. This is something a leader has to do on their own, with small steps that will eventually ripple throughout the organization.

Start with little things: Say thank you to people when they give you an update about a project, send you a document you were looking for or help put the conference room back in order after a meeting. Start noticing and actually looking for things to be grateful for and thankful about, like the sales rep who closed the deal or the customer service rep who handled the irate customer smoothly and calmly. You don’t have to give them a card, buy them a fancy lunch or publicly praise them—in fact some people are very uncomfortable with public praise. All you really have to do is communicate that you appreciate them and that you see the work they do and effort that goes into it.

In my business, I might go a whole week without seeing one or another of my associates but I know that our connection with one another over the work we do is always greatly helped when I take the time to call or email and just say “Thank you for the way you handled that difficult situation with the client” or “Thank you for taking on that last minute project.” I don’t want to communicate: It’s your job, so you’ll do it or else. That doesn’t promote mutual respect and cooperation. Giving someone a little appreciation for the work they put toward making your company better does.

In some companies, there’s a sense of entitlement, like “Hey, where’s the personal chef? Why don’t we get massages every week like they do at XYZ company?” That whole attitude can be a gratitude killer. It’s still up to the leader to transform it. You begin by thanking them for what they do, and chances are it will work its way back around. Imagine hearing from employees: “Hey, thank you for the free lunch. Thank you for the flex time or for creating this cheerful work atmosphere or for giving me a chance to grow in my career.”

When you start thanking people, most will notice and recognize how much better it makes them feel about their work. Then they’ll want to pass that on. And everybody will be happier, healthier, and more connected. Try it, it works!
And Happy Thanksgiving!

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