As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it is a good time to remember all we have to be grateful for and think about making gratitude a year-round habit. Abundant research shows that a gratitude practice has a powerful positive effect on our well-being. And although we might think of it as a personal and private practice, it is possible to develop a gratitude practice in the workplace. In fact, because work has so much influence on our lives, one might argue that the workplace is the perfect setting for a gratitude practice.
Unfortunately, we do not often associate the workplace with gratitude. “We tend to think of organizations as transactional places where you’re supposed to be ‘professional,'” observes one gratitude researcher. “We may think that it’s unprofessional to bring things like forgiveness or gratitude or compassion into the workplace.” Yet, a growing body of research finds that creating a culture of gratitude in your organization can improve the individual well-being of your employees and increase trust and employee engagement.
The pandemic has created a window of opportunity to make a more deliberate effort to incorporate gratitude in the workplace. Lockdowns have helped us appreciate the purpose and camaraderie we get at work. We understand more keenly how a strong organizational culture is critical to weathering tough times. And the new normal of remote and hybrid work models presents a real challenge to building such a strong organizational culture.
Many of my clients have recently asked me, “How can I build better team morale, trust, and strong relationships in my remote and hybrid teams?” A team gratitude practice I have been suggesting also turns out to be an excellent team-building exercise.
Gratitude in the workplace
Nearly twenty years ago, Robert Emmons, one of the foremost pioneers in gratitude research, noted that there was “virtually no hard research on gratitude in organizations.” Recently, that is starting to change. In 2016, a group of researchers released a study called The Grateful Workplace that examined both the benefits of gratitude at work and the organizational practices that can make gratitude a part of workplace culture. The following year, the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley held a conference called “Gratitude and Well-Being at Work.”
Among the findings of this new research is that gratitude in the workplace results in:
- less stress and more positive emotions
- fewer sick days
- higher job satisfaction
- increased trust and teamwork
One of the authors of The Grateful Workplace notes that a gratitude mindset tends to lead to a growth mindset. Instead of getting lost in the small daily distractions and frustrations, we keep our eyes on the big picture. We are mindful of the chance to make a positive difference and look for opportunities to do so.
Starting a team gratitude practice
The key to successfully building any new habit is starting with a concrete and doable first step. The following practice is something you can implement immediately and can work with an all in-person team if you are fully back in the office or via video conference if your team is remote or hybrid.
Ask every member of the team to share what they are grateful for in the following three areas:
- Something they are grateful for at work. This can be anything from talking about their personal and professional development at work to sharing their excitement with a current project to observing their work’s positive effect on people’s lives.
- Someone on the team they are grateful for, and why. Supporting our co-workers and looking out for one another’s well-being has never been more critical, and this is a chance to show appreciation for that interdependence and celebrate it. It could be something big, like a colleague helping us finish a project, or something small, like someone accommodating their schedule for us.
- Something in their life outside of work they are grateful for. Sharing something in this area helps remind everyone that it is not healthy to define ourselves solely through our work. It also creates a powerful opportunity for us to see others and be seen by others in a different light.
Finally, the facilitator or manager should note everyone in the meeting who received recognition and gratitude so that they can provide appreciation for those not mentioned to ensure the gratitude practice is inclusive to everyone.
When you convene your first team gratitude practice, make it clear you intend to do this regularly, whether bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Doing so shows your team you see gratitude as an essential part of your organizational culture; helps everyone build their gratitude muscle; and encourages team members to adopt a gratitude mindset that looks for and welcomes things to be thankful for.
Benefits of a team gratitude practice
This single gratitude practice, done on a regular basis, will:
· build rapport and strengthen relationships
· increase confidence and trust
· boost mood, happiness, and well-being
· improve motivation and performance
Next steps in creating a culture of gratitude
An important contribution of The Grateful Workplace study is that it looks at what the authors call “organizational antecedents” of gratitude. In other words, what kinds of organizational practices make it more likely that gratitude will be a solid and consistent part of your organizational culture? Three of their suggestions stood out.
First, they and other researchers observe that appreciation and gratitude are mutually self-reinforcing. In addition to making it a habit to show appreciation to employees informally, companies can adopt formal appreciation programs that regularly acknowledge employees who go above and beyond for the organization and their co-workers.
Second, there is also a reciprocal relationship between gratitude and developmental feedback. Unlike a routine performance evaluation, this kind of feedback is forward-looking and focuses on an individual employee’s personal and professional development. When people see their jobs and their personal growth trajectory as working hand-in-hand, they are far more likely to adopt a gratitude mindset and associate work with thankfulness and other positive emotions.
Finally, the study links collective gratitude and organizations with a solid commitment to corporate social responsibility. An organization that stands for and acts on strong values is more likely to have a strong workplace culture in which employees feel part of a larger purpose, which in turn promotes greater team cohesion and improved job satisfaction.
If we are truly thankful for all the things that add meaning and depth to our lives, we will commit to making a gratitude practice a regular feature of our lives. Not just at Thanksgiving but throughout the year. And not just in our private lives, but in the workplace as well.