When organisations analyse their culture and determine their values, ‘gratitude’ isn’t a trait that is likely to appear, and yet it is increasingly evidenced as critical for well-being and success.
In a working world that’s constantly changing and throwing up obstacles and challenges, the ability of leaders and employees to withstand stress and adversity and be resilient is critical.
While there is never a silver bullet solution, research from Berkley University’s Greater Good Science Centre discovered that practising gratitude increases happiness levels and positive emotions, improves relationships, increases a person’s resilience, and reduces the risk of depression.
Practising gratitude in the workplace isn’t about ignoring emotions or feelings of stress, sadness or hurt. Instead, it’s about equipping leaders and employees with the strategies and mechanisms to cope with challenges and change. So rather than letting a situation over-whelm or consume their every waking thought, they can progress through it.
What is gratitude
Gratitude is a virtue, a character trait and an emotion. At its core, it is a positive emotion that arises when you are aware of what you have and are thankful for it. Being grateful feels good.
Research Professors Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process. Firstly, you recognise you have obtained a positive outcome. Secondly, you know an external source is responsible for that positive outcome.
Adopting a gratitude mindset can also be viewed as a mental frame of reference, shaping how you see the world and, in turn, think and act.
When you are predisposed to being grateful – to focusing on what's good and what you have – it changes how you process and interpret what's happening around you. Central to this approach is a focus on connection, support and focusing on others.
Why it helps
Emotions are contagious, and so emotions in the workplace matter.
Gratitude promotes pro-social behaviour, which means that team members who are more grateful have a higher likelihood of helping their colleagues.
There's even research that demonstrates that provoking feelings of gratitude in people resulted in more elaboration on ideas presented by their colleagues, resulting in more ideas with higher creativity.
How to cultivate
Grateful people have strong connections to the community, colleagues and good friends.
As the leader, devote time to important relationships daily and create an environment where relationships are valued. For example, take the time to ring people and spend meaningful time with them.
When your team members have reached a significant milestone, congratulate them for their success and demonstrate your gratitude. This can be a hand-written note or phone call. Small gestures, when they are personal and genuine, go a long way to elevating relationships.
Build core practices
Establish core rituals in your team where team members are encouraged to focus on what they can do for others. When a person does something nice for someone else, it makes them feel good and helps them realise the positive forces they have in their lives.
As part of team meetings, build in reflective activities where the team reflects on what they are grateful for and why. Such action may initially be resisted, so you will need to role model the way. The achievement doesn't have to be huge. It can be as simple as – I had a good client meeting, meetings ran on time today, or I completed an essential task.
Talk to your team about gratitude’s role as a guiding principle for how your team best works and connects. Ask them to consider how they can show appreciation for each other and how they would like their colleagues to express gratitude for their efforts too.
Practising gratitude isn’t a one-off activity. For best results, it’s something that leaders and team members focus on each day.
The Roman statesman, Cicero, proclaimed gratitude as not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and the award-winning author of three books. Her latest book is Bad Boss: What to Do If You Work for One, Manage One or Are One.