This week, our focus turns to giving thanks and the power of gratitude. While many of us tend to view and express gratitude in relation to our personal lives, gratitude in the workplace is especially critical because it satisfies the higher psychological need to feel a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves–to feel a sense of meaning at work.
This desire for meaning at work is part of an organizational and psychological shift toward a more human workplace, rooted in gratitude, where employees feel appreciated, valued, respected, and empowered to reach their fullest potential.
Gratitude goes hand in hand with the act of giving recognition. When we recognize one another, it makes us even more appreciative and inspires the person we’ve thanked to give that feeling to someone else, leading to a swell in happiness, well-being, morale, energy, and engagement–all of which directly influence performance, productivity, and retention.
This is the gratitude effect: a ripple of acknowledgment and appreciation that surges forward, transforming and inspiring us, and improving business outcomes. The more gratitude going around, the more human connections are being made, and the more collaboration, engagement, and innovation across the organization. Moreover, when recognition is given frequently throughout the year, the impact of that positive reinforcement is even greater.
Gratitude changes the giver, not just the receiver.
While we tend to think about recognition from the perspective of the employee who receives the positive reinforcement, it’s just as important to look at that moment of recognition through the lens of the giver, a perspective that deserves much more attention. “Research suggests people often underestimate the impact of showing their gratitude to others,” writes Deloitte’s Suzanne Vickberg, Ph.D., a social-personality psychologist, public speaker, and co-author of Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships.MORE FOR YOUBillionaire Bill Gates’ Alleged Relationships With Women While Married Raise Questions About His CharacterWeWork’s New CEO Says ‘Uberly Engaged’ Employees Will Return To The Office While Others Will Be ‘Very Comfortable’At HomeWeWork’s CEO Insults Employees Who Prefer Working Remotely
The act of expressing gratitude makes us vulnerable and authentic, creating a powerful, human connection between the giver and the receiver. Saying “what you did had a positive impact on me” is a profound message to give to another human being and it puts both of you in a happier, more grateful frame of mind. In its in-depth 2019 Global Happiness and Well-Being Policy Report, the Global Happiness Council estimated that “a meaningful increase in well-being” yields, on average, about a 10% increase in productivity. In her book, The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies to Wire Your World for Greater Productivity and Wellbeing, Global Happiness Council Member Amy Blankson says, “by scanning the world for the positive, we can begin to transform our past failures, hurts, and fears into a source of potential growth—a process that paves the way for long-term happiness.”
The act of giving recognition can be an even more transformative experience than the act of receiving it. Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at University of California, Davis, characterizes gratitude as “the ultimate touchpoint of human existence … and the ultimate performance-enhancing substance.”
When you thank someone, you’re creating what New York Times best-selling author Dan Heath calls “a defining moment,” not just for the receiver, but also for yourself. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, which he co-wrote with his brother, Chris, encourages readers to write gratitude letters to people who have made a positive difference in their life and read the letters aloud to them in a face-to-face visit. “Research shows that doing that can boost your happiness levels for as much as a month,” Dan Heath said in a 2017 interview.
The virtuous cycle of gratitude and recognition.
In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, best-selling author Daniel H. Pink explains how a gratitude visit can generate positive momentum. When you thank someone, it often leads them to consider whom they might never have thanked. “So, they make their own pilgrimage, as eventually do the recipients of their thanks, resulting in a daisy chain of gratitude and contentment.”
GoodThink cofounder and CEO Shawn Achor also discussed the positive impact and ripple effect of expressing appreciation in his New York Times best-selling book Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness and Well-Being. “Praise creates what I call a ‘virtuous cycle’ – the more you give, the more you enhance your own supply. When done right, praise primes the brain for higher performance, which means that the more we praise, the more success we create. And the more successes there are, the more there is to praise. The research I’ve been doing over the past five years shows that the more you can authentically shine praise on everyone in your ecosystem, the more your potential, individually and collectively, rises.”
Achor’s findings were reinforced in the Global Happiness Council’s 2019 report that included a case study about the business impact of LinkedIn’s social recognition program on employee retention and performance. In addition to showing correlations between recognition, increased retention rates, and higher year-over-year performance rating increases, “particularly for high-performing employees who received more frequent recognition,” the LinkedIn data also revealed the powerful impact of practicing gratitude on the givers: “The more employees offered praise, the more praise they received in return, creating a virtuous circle of positivity and success.”
Be the change you want to see.
Leaders should model the habit of frequent and widespread expressions of recognition and appreciation to inspire others throughout the organization to emulate that behavior. Three tips for getting started:
- Never underestimate the power of “thank you.” Everyone wants to feel recognized and appreciated, so encourage employees to thank the people around them, including their colleagues, senior leaders, and employers, on a regular basis, year-round.
- Look beyond the ‘big wins’ to uncover lower-profile contributions that also deserve appreciation and recognition. Dr. Vickberg shared this insight in her recent LinkedIn article that summarized the findings of a Deloitte Greenhouse report she co-authored on employee recognition preferences. “Sometimes projects fail, despite a team’s heroic efforts. Not everyone’s role is closely tied to identifiable successes. Some peoples’ contributions are impactful, but less visible.” Many of the 16,000 professionals surveyed expressed the importance of recognizing “the effort they put in, their knowledge and expertise, and their commitment to living the organization’s core values,” not just the “big wins.”
- Give recognition to those who habitually recognize others. Rewarding the employees who express their gratitude often and to many people can inspire others to follow their lead.
While Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to acknowledge and remember the proven benefits of gratitude in the workplace, remember that the power of gratitude is too important to be celebrated on just one day. When people lift one another with acknowledgment and recognition–when giving and receiving gratitude is the foundation of a culture–we’re all elevated, we’re all able to blossom into the best versions of ourselves, and one person’s success becomes everyone’s.