Gratitude is a virtue that all humans possess, and revolves around giving thanks. Whether it’s at work, around the house, or a more personal and introspective goal, the end of the year holidays mark a time when everyone is spreading a little more of it around. Whether we know it or not, expressing gratitude in our own lives – and to those who help us – has a number of psychological and social benefits, including increasing our own wellbeing, job satisfaction, and ensuring that those on the receiving end remain interested and invested in maintaining the relationship.
There is an abundance of research done on the effect that feeling grateful has on a personal psychological level. It reduces depression, increases relationship satisfaction, reduces aggression, and is a strong motivator in the workplace.
Less studied is the social impact that gratitude has in an organizational context. This “institutionalized gratitude” is the way in which the organization has embedded gratitude practices and policies into day-to-day operations. How a workplace culture expresses and reinforces gratitude has been seen to have a positive influence over job satisfaction, productivity, turnover, and burnout. It is not as simple as a collection of individuals who express gratitude in the workplace. Lea Waters defines it as “a distinctive and enduring organizational characteristic that promotes gratitude within and between organizational members across time.”
Despite being an external rather than internal source of gratitude, institutionalized gratitude can impact job satisfaction and wellbeing just as positively. Rather than feeling grateful for anything specific, the general positive influence of a grateful culture impacts employees’ perception of the workplace.
Expressing Gratitude Effectively
There are a number of ways that gratitude can be expressed personally or socially. In the literature read for this post it was often referred to as a “gratitude intervention” which is when you make a conscious effort to express gratitude. These interventions must be genuine, sincere, and authentic in order to be meaningful and effective in initiating the benefits mentioned earlier.
Showing gratitude to colleagues, friends, family and yourself can build stronger relationships and help you get better results in your work and social life. There is a tangible positive impact on people when they feel socially valued. When someone has shown appreciation for something you’ve done, the likelihood that you will help that person again in the future is typically quite high.
However, the opposite is also typically true.
Ingratitude and Mistakes in Gratitude Expression
Ingratitude sours relationships. Without some form of acknowledgement, the effect is quite quick and people stop wanting to help you, or think twice before whether they should help you when the need arises again in the future. In their research, Adam Grant and Francesca Gino saw that when someone wasn’t thanked for their help, the rate of helping in the future was immediately cut in half. And it warrants mentioning again, a Lack of gratitude in the workplace is a major factor behind job dissatisfaction, turnover, absenteeism, and burnout.
A mistake that is often made when expressing gratitude is having the focus be on you and how it made you feel instead of your benefactor. This is referred to as “self-benefit” gratitude expression and describes how the receiver is not better off. Rather the focus should be on who helped you. “Other-praising” acknowledges and validates their actions.
This distinction isn’t about making people feel good about themselves. It is instead about making an intentional effort to recognize the value or benefit in your relationship.
Leaders Expressing Gratitude
When it comes to leaders expressing gratitude, it’s not as simple as saying “thank you” to your employees for doing their job. That is what they are paid for. To be seen as genuine and authentic appreciation, the unique qualities, traits, and contributions of each individual and how they helped the organization evolve and grow must be recognized.
This level of recognition demonstrates to employees that it is understood that the successes and gains made in the organization are not simply a product of leadership, but the result of a collective effort. Moreover, it helps employees to explicitly see how they have impacted their colleagues and the organization in general.
“Leaders who adopt a deeper life orientation of appreciation and move away from a deficit, or complaint focus will be the leaders who truly inspire a culture of gratitude.“ (Waters, 2012)
Even though we may be more inclined to feel grateful around the holidays, engaging in activities that encourage the expression of gratitude can benefit us throughout the year.
Gratitude interventions work because the more you practice gratitude, the more of it you are in yourself and others and the more you can benefit from it.
Douthwaite Wolf, K. (2016). How a Little Gratitude Can Help You Get Ahead at Work. Themuse.com. Retrieved 10 December 2016, from https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-a-little-gratitude-can-help-you-get-ahead-at-work?sf43098774=1
Grant, H. (2016). Stop Making Gratitude All About You. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 10 December 2016, from https://hbr.org/2016/06/stop-making-gratitude-all-about-you
Jarrett, C. (2016). How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain. Science of Us. Retrieved 10 December 2016, from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/01/how-expressing-gratitude-change-your-brain.html?mid=twitter_scienceofus
Naseer, T. (2016). Why Expressing Gratitude Through Our Leadership Matters. Tanveer Naseer. Retrieved 8 December 2016, from http://www.tanveernaseer.com/the-importance-of-gratitude-in-leadership/
Vozza, S. (2016). The Science Of Gratitude And Why It’s Important In Your Workplace. Fast Company. Retrieved 24 November 2016, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3065948/the-future-of-work/the-science-of-gratitude-and-why-its-important-in-your-workplace
Waters, L. (2012). Predicting Job Satisfaction: Contributions of Individual Gratitude and Institutionalized Gratitude. Psychology, 3(12A), 1174-1176.