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Hey, Thanks! or, the Power of Gratitude in the Workplace

(Part 1 of a 5-part Series)

At its core, gratitude is an excellent antidote for the isolation which has become such a problem for so many of us. While the COVID-19 pandemic put a painfully bright spotlight on the problems that are caused by isolation, the truth is most of us are more functionally isolated than our predecessors in both our personal and professional lives, and this has been a growing concern for decades.

When I talk about gratitude, I’m speaking about a feeling of appreciation to someone or

something that has benefitted you. It can be large, small, life-changing… and it can be direct OR indirect. For example, who are my coffee drinkers in the house? Do you KNOW the farmers who grow the beans that make that delicious elixre of life? I know a handful of coffee roasters, but I don’t personally know any coffee farmers. Despite that, I am sincerely grateful to the folks who work hard to allow me the luxury of enjoying my daily java (and so are the people who have to spend time with me).

When we experience gratitude, whether we are conscious of this or not, our brain is not only experiencing a positive outcome from whatever it is that we’re grateful about, but we’re also reminded that we’re connected to something or someone outside of ourselves.

Gratitude is fundamentally about connections.

Before we dive into the professional implications of gratitude let’s prime our brains for this

conversation by giving ourselves a little pick-me-up of serotonin and dopamine as we practice some real-time gratitude. How many of you have heard the expression “Look for the silver lining”? I appreciate the sentiment in those words, and yet sometimes life is really messy and asking people to pretend it’s not can be more hurtful than helpful. So when I got to a place in my life where things were just RUGGED, I started looking for SILVER THREADS… tiny bits of positive experience, and there are zillions of these throughout even the most rugged days.

I remember when my kids were small and somebody brought a stomach bug home, and one day, I gratefully realized OH MY GOODNESS – NOBODY got sick last night! For the caregivers

out there, you know that’s actually a pretty BIG relief… but it’s not something we would normally think of when we’re looking for things to be grateful for, and that’s a shame, because collecting small moments of gratitude periodically throughout our days and weeks is actually an incredibly powerful way to balance out our experiences.

So to kick this off, we’re going hunting for bright, shiny silver threads. Our brains process about 34 gigabytes of information every single day, so scientifically there have to be at least a handful of those moments where you felt good, grateful or positive, at least for a second or two. Don’t overthink this – and don’t reach for the obvious responses. Give yourself permission to mentally stretch JUST a moment and think about ONE THING for which you are FRESHLY grateful. It could be something that you experienced this morning, or maybe even something you’re looking forward to in the next week or so.

Give yourself a few minutes to really think about this moment in time. If it’s something that already happened, re-play it in your mind and let all those positive emotions percolate through your mind again. If it’s something that hasn’t happened yet, imagine what it might be like, in as much detail a you can muster, and enjoy the positive anticipation! Then, jot that thought down on a sticky note or index card, add the hashtag #silverthreads and then grab your phone, take a picture, and, share your snapshot with your people, maybe on Instagram, LinkedIn or Tiktok, or send it as a text if it’s about somebody you know – let them experience some happiness, too!

OK – Now that we’ve done a little self-care, it’s time to make this professional. Odds are if you’re a regular reader of my work you already care about your people. I also recognize that in today’s world, it takes more than that to change hearts, minds, and business practices. So let’s start with some basic (and startling) stats. Employee engagement is a costly and complicated challenge that organizations of all industries have tried to address for decades with little improvement in average engagement scores overall. Gallup’s 2022 global survey found that only 22% of employees globally are engaged at work. If you’re responsible for paying salaries, that number should freak you out. The cost of that disengagement? 7-8 TRILLION dollars, annually.

Meanwhile, 70% of employees would feel better about themselves if their boss were more

grateful, and 81% would work harder. 95% of employees agree that a grateful boss is more likely to be successful. Employees who experience more gratitude at work report fewer depressive symptoms and stress. Lack of gratitude is a major factor in driving job dissatisfaction, turnover, absenteeism, and burnout. In recent surveys, half of the people said they regularly said thank you to their family members, but only 15% say thank you at work, and 35% of people say their managers NEVER thank them.

In research cited by the Wall Street Journal, the workplace ranked last of places where people express gratitude, with just 10% of people saying thank you to their colleagues and only 7% saying thank you to their supervisor. And yet, some people actively discourage gratitude at work. There’s actually an employee-motivation consultant in San Diego, as saying, “We thank people around here: It's called a paycheck.” Yikes. I think I’ve worked at companies he’s tainted!

And while we’re on this subject, I want to mention that while for SOME things (like laughter)

you CAN fake it ‘til you make it… Gratitude is NOT one of those things. Inauthentic gratitude or just “going through the motions” will damage your credibility, decrease trust, create friction on your teams, and generally contribute to an unhealthy workplace culture. People can smell insincere gratitude a mile away.

Here’s one final set of statistics for you. Regular gratitude journaling has been shown to result in 5% to 15% increases in optimism and 25% increased sleep quality, and the health and behavioral benefits from those two alone are massive.

What might gratitude do for your organizational performance?

That was the question I wanted to answer when I was designing my doctoral research project. I partnered with a consulting firm whose engagement scores had, much like employee engagement around the globe, remained lower than desired by management. Two questions framed my initial research.

  1. How do intentional gratitude practices influence job satisfaction, and

  2. How can intentional gratitude practices be improved to increase job satisfaction?

A sample of the employee population was surveyed to assess current state job satisfaction and role confidence, then assigned to one of two groups. For four consecutive weeks, one group kept a daily gratitude journal, while the other reached out daily (yes, at least once a day!) to professional connections to express gratitude directly. Employees from each group were then interviewed to determine if there was a change in their job satisfaction, role confidence, or perception of gratitude in the workplace.

In this series we’ll explore what we discovered, and along with those findings I’ll share

recommendations which I’ve been able to use to help companies create healthier working

environments with more engaged teams. In 2023, I’m looking for opportunities to repeat this research with organizations across a wide array of industries, so if this is something that has sparked your curiosity, let’s talk!



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