gratitude

Stop Overthinking a Culture of Gratitude. Show It Instead!

As we enter the season of gratitude, I have contemplated the importance of employers, managers, and leaders expressing thanks to their hardworking team members. We have collectively weathered a storm, and we’re not in the clear yet. No matter what the industry, things have been challenging. But how should we show our gratitude? What is authentic? What works?

With “The Great Resignation” and “The Great Discontent” affecting our organizations, retention is top-of-mind. Here is my gentle reminder: a little gratitude goes a long way in keeping employees happy and feeling valued.

Why gratitude is great

Gratitude in the workplace is often underrated. While some leaders are quick with a “thank you,” others are still under the impression that thanks are given with a paycheck. Research clearly illustrates that the right amount of gratitude can drastically impact the productivity, positivity, morale, employee retention, and success of a business.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, is at the heart of understanding gratitude. In his 2010 essay, Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, reveals why gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships.

“[Gratitude] has two components. First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life,” Robert says. “The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Gratitude is transcendent.

The act of gratitude clearly transcends any one part of our lives. It’s holistic in nature. Those who are grateful at home are likely to be grateful at work. But people aren’t inherently grateful or not. Like many things, it can be–and I would argue should be– practiced.

My thoughts have landed here: stop overthinking a culture of gratitude. Show it instead! It sure seems silly as a line item on an executive agenda: “Express thanks to employees.” Instead, be naturally grateful for the employees who have stuck through trying times. Show them gratitude–and not just one night at the fancy holiday party. Say “thank you.” Drop a note. Make eye contact and actively show appreciation for a job well done.

A recent Gallup analysis found that “48 percent of America’s working population is actively job searching or watching for opportunities. Businesses are facing a staggeringly high quit rate–3.6 million Americans resigned in May alone–and a record-high number of unfilled positions. And Gallup discovered that workers in all job categories, from customer-facing service roles to highly professional positions, are actively or passively job hunting at roughly the same rate.”

It is no secret that keeping employees happy is the name of the game right now. Retention has always been a hot topic among leaders, but it’s never been more important to engage employees and entice them to stay through authentic actions.

Get back to basics.

Say things like: Thank you! We appreciate you. We are glad you’re here. You offer great value to our team. Nice job on that project. Sound too easy or trite? It’s not.

Ask questions like: How would you like to be recognized? What makes a happy, productive workplace? A misstep is often to assume you know what resonates with people. Don’t be afraid to ask: take surveys or have open conversations about what feels good to hear or experience.

Ask people about their experiences alone and in groups. Also, find out how people are feeling. Are they scared? Tired? Upbeat? Hopeful? What general trends come to light from truly ASKING?

Create an environment that fosters gratitude.

According to HBR’s piece, “Building a Better Workplace Starts with Saying ‘Thanks’”: “Make time and space for gratitude. Many employees may feel ambivalent about expressing gratitude or appreciation publicly, so don’t force it. Instead, managers should make (physical or virtual) space and time for gratitude. For example, managers can create an appreciation wall or a dedicated Slack channel for employees to recognize others and give kudos. Managers might also start meetings with gratitude ‘check-ins,’ during which team members can express one thing they’re thankful for. When employees pin notes to the wall or participate in check-ins, they create social proof that encourages their ambivalent colleagues to do the same.”

Stop thinking about gratitude as an “initiative.”

Gratitude in the workplace doesn’t have to be expensive or overwrought with logistics. There are many ways to show appreciation and employee recognition that aren’t overtaxing or unrealistic.

Our friends at gThankYou publish an ongoing blog related to employee appreciation, recognition, and gratitude. One post that spoke to me was “The Magic of On-the-Spot Recognition.” It outlines many reasons to simply show gratitude “in the moment”–and it is simple, appreciated and, frankly, expected by younger generations.

“A culture of gratitude begins with a genuine heart and true feelings of thanks for those who make your business work every day,” shares Liz King, co-founder and CMO of gThankYou. “We have committed to sharing free resources to help leaders incorporate appreciation, recognition and thanks into the workplace all year long. It’s a wise business decision that also feels great.”

Other considerations for maintaining a culture of gratitude

Define happiness.

As with all goal-setting, the clearer the picture, the more likely you will succeed. Take the time to understand what happiness means in your organization, industry, and area of the world. This alone can put a damper on the “Great Resignation” or “Great Discontent.” Picture a happy workplace: what does it really look like?

Understand how to align the organization’s foundational purpose with daily actions.

This piggybacks on defining happiness. There should also be a deep-rooted connection between what the organization stands for and how it treats employees. What is this company all about? If it is focused on providing goods or services to better their customers or the world, are we treating employees just as well (or better)? If we thank our customers and partners, shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to our employees?

The bottom line

Organizations, specifically leaders, MUST set an example of gratitude. We encourage you to not only take the time to say, “thank you” regularly but build tangible, effective ways to keep a gratitude culture thriving.

How do you foster a culture of gratitude? I’d love to hear your ideas–and so would your peers! Please feel free to contact me at ctrivella@talentculture.com.