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No Turkey Needed! Embracing Gratitude in the Workplace

Let’s face it – we’re terrible at showing appreciation for one another, especially at work.

Yes, we buy lunch for our staff at the quarterly meeting, give out certificates for years of service, and even say “thank you” to our team for job well done, but do we really show our employees that we value who they are as people? Do our offices have a culture of gratitude? Do we empathize with our co-workers during a hard season in life and recognize their contributions? Honestly, not as much as we should.

Expressing gratitude is a proven positive force for both us as individuals and for our workplace cultures. Feeling appreciated leads to better health, lower stress, and fewer sick days. It can also lead to increased productivity. One study by Glassdoor found that 81% of employees surveyed felt motivated to work harder if their boss showed appreciation!

Recognizing others in meaningful ways also builds relationships that foster and strengthen team cohesion. Furthermore, gratitude counteracts negativity, gossip, and aggression in the workplace. In an interview for The Greater Good Magazine, Peter Bonanno at Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute said “I see gratitude as a gateway drug to empathy in that it’s very positive, it’s easy to get started with.” The icing on the cake: it doesn’t cost a dime.

So, what does this mean? Do we all just need to say, “thank you” more often? Well, yes and no. Yes, thanking others is a step in the right direction, but empty (albeit well-meaning) platitudes can fall flat, seem insincere, and backfire. The best way to cultivate gratitude is to be intentional, thoughtful, and authentic. Here are our top 5 ways to get started:

  1. Treat everyone as an individual. Each person likes to be recognized and acknowledged in a different way. One person might like to be recognized in front of the group at a department meeting while another would deeply appreciate a personal, hand-written note. Get to know your team. If you’re not sure what someone would prefer – just ask! Remember the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they would like to be treated.

  2. Make time. Appreciating others does not usually float to the top of our to-do list on its own. We have to be intentional and make a point to show how grateful we are on a regular basis. Make it part of your discussion at feedback sessions with your staff or set aside time each week to send a few emails to those who have really made an impact.

  3. Pay attention. People don’t want to just be recognized for their achievements, but want to be valued for their inherent worth as a person. We typically only see a segmented view of our employees and co-workers and forget that the work they do is only part of who they are. Listen to what they want to share and show interest in their personal life. Is your team member passionate about a particular cause? Is your employee taking care of an elderly parent? Seeing the whole person can help you better understand those with whom you work and develop a deeper sense of appreciation for their motivations and contributions.

  4. Be authentic and specific. No “thank you” at all is better than a bad one. Giving everyone the same note or generally acknowledging a team’s hard work comes across as fake and can actually lower morale. Think about how each person contributed to a team’s effort or how a staff member really stood out this past month. If you truly do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

  5. Establish a culture of gratitude. Make space for gratitude in your workplace. Add a time for appreciation in your regular team check-in or put a whiteboard in the breakroom for staff to write gratitude notes. Take the lead in making gratitude a consistent part of your office interactions. If it is a normal, routine thing it will take the stigma of being weak or unprofessional out of being grateful.

So, as we enter the season of Thanksgiving, will you join us in giving gratitude a seat at our workplace table? You don’t need a turkey to say thanks.

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