Cultivating a practice of gratitude has a number of social, psychological, and physical health benefits.  Aside from keeping a personal gratitude journal, research shows that expressing gratitude at work can result in "more positive emotionsless stress and fewer health complaints, a greater sense that we can achieve our goalsfewer sick days, and higher satisfaction with our jobs and our coworkers".  Read on to learn more.

Source:  The Greater Good Science Center


Date: September 6, 2017

When consultant Stephanie Pollack was brought in to work with the state chapter of a national nonprofit, morale was low. The organization was in the middle of a transformation that brought in new leadership, a new culture, new rules—and lots of tension and uncertainty.

Her task? To teach appreciation and gratitude.

Over the course of a three-day retreat, she taught a small group of reluctant employees about the benefits of recognizing the good things in their lives and saying thank you. And something shifted. After one person wrote a genuine note of thanks on an “appreciation wall,” soon everyone was participating.

But what really surprised Pollack was the connection and authenticity that appreciation seemed to inspire. At the end of the retreat, some of the more closed-off employees opened up about the feelings and past experiences that had created their hard shells.

“They walked in with a lot of tension and frustration,” Pollack recounts. “I’m not saying they walked out with none, but there was a willingness on everyone’s part to move forward together in a different way.”

The practice of gratitude—and its close sibling, appreciation—has started to infiltrate workplaces, from new software companies to older institutions like Campbell Soup, whose former CEO wrote 30,000 thank you notes to his employees. Though research on gratitude has exploded over the past two decades, studies of gratitude at work are still somewhat limited; results so far link it to more positive emotionsless stress and fewer health complaints, a greater sense that we can achieve our goalsfewer sick days, and higher satisfaction with our jobs and our coworkers.

While expressing thanks to colleagues might feel awkward or even at odds with some workplace cultures, many organizations have been developing innovative ways to overcome those barriers. Building on—and even getting out in front of—the existing research on gratitude at work, their efforts have identified concrete and important strategies for putting this research into practice. Their experiences suggest that building cultures of gratitude and appreciation can transform our work lives, leading to deeper connections to each other and to the work we’re doing.

Why gratitude is so revolutionary

Researchers define appreciation as the act of acknowledging the goodness in life—in other words, seeing the positives in events, experiences, or other people (like our colleagues). Gratitude goes a step further: It recognizes how the positive things in our lives—like a success at work—are often due to forces outside of ourselves, particularly the efforts of other people. But this kind of thinking can seem countercultural in the realm of hierarchies and promotions, where everyone is trying to get ahead and may be reluctant to acknowledge their reliance on—or express emotions to—their co-workers. 

“We tend to think of organizations as transactional places where you’re supposed to be ‘professional,’” says Ryan Fehr, an assistant professor of management at the University of Washington, Seattle, who recently published a paper summarizing the landscape of gratitude in business. “We may think that it’s unprofessional to bring things like forgiveness or gratitude or compassion into the workplace.”

Yet evidence suggests that gratitude and appreciation contribute to the kind of workplace environments where employees actually want to come to work and don’t feel like cogs in a machine.

Appreciation is a cornerstone of the culture at Southwest Airlines, named by Forbes as America’s #13 Best Employer of 2018. One way the company appreciates employees is by paying attention to special events in their personal lives—from kids’ graduations to marriages to family illnesses—and recognizing those with small gestures like flowers and cards. “We’re all encountering different obstacles in our life, we’re all celebrating different things in our life,” says Cheryl Hughey, managing director of culture at Southwest.

Southwest seems to understand what research has shown: that gratitude tends to emerge in workplaces with more “perceived organizational support,” where employees believe that the company values their contributions and cares about their well-being. And caring means valuing employee health and happiness for their own sake, not just as a way to eke out longer work hours and greater productivity.

“[Gratitude is] going to make your business more profitable, you’re going to be more effective, your employees will be more engaged—but if that’s the only reason you’re doing it, your employees are going to think you’re using them,” says Steve Foran, founder of the program Gratitude at Work. “You have to genuinely want the best for your people.”

Gratitude as a “gateway drug”

Gratitude isn’t the only emotional skill that could be valuable to the modern business. We might also hope to build emotionally intelligent and empathic workplaces, where employees practice compassion and forgiveness.

But gratitude could be a pathway to these (arguably more difficult) goals, according to Peter Bonanno, director of program development at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), a nonprofit that offers training in mindfulness and emotional intelligence to individuals and teams. Bonanno has found that, to most people, practicing gratitude is appealing, practical, feel-good, and fun. One study, for example, found that gratitude journaling for as little as 15 minutes was enough to boost positive emotions.

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