In Culture

Nearly every organization struggles with questions of how best to engage and retain personnel, and it’s rare to find a one-size-fits-all solution to motivate staff and maintain morale. Of course, while the ironfisted approach may make for a riveting season of Billions, most organizations are likely to reap more rewards — both immediate and lasting — through cultivating a culture of gratitude.

This idea may seem obvious — after all, as the adage goes, you’re likely to catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But recent research has shown that rooting your culture in true gratitude for workers and the work they do tends to benefit the organization from the bottom up.

Gratitude helps cultures, companies, and individuals.

Cultivating a Company Culture of Gratitude

The Time for Cultivating a Company Culture of Gratitude is Now

Reassessing the culture of your organization may be of crucial importance right now, as the phenomenon analysts call “The Great Resignation” is spiraling from the United States into a global phenomenon.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 55% of Americans — many of them mid-career — are looking for new employment, and 41% of workers globally are considering quitting and/or changing jobs. For a lot of workers, company culture is driving their decision to leave.

Gratitude is More than Just Recognition

It’s not news to that appreciation and acknowledgement of employee efforts is key to retention; after all, employee recognition is a key function of most HR departments. However, recognition does not always equal gratitude.

We perform better when our efforts are acknowledged, but what happens if those efforts do not feel truly appreciated? We disengage, and our loyalties are tested. Numerous studies have shown that high-pressure environments lead to greater healthcare expenditures, decreased productivity, increases in workplace accidents, and higher rates of employee turnover.

Gratitude can be a somewhat slippery concept, but we tend know it when we feel it. Most importantly, it’s the feeling of being valued and seen. It’s the feeling of recognizing the ways others elevate us, a feeling of social connection and engagement. And without gratitude, we begin to seek greener pastures.

The Quantifiable Benefits of a Company Culture of Gratitude

Organizationally, studies show that practices of gratitude have myriad benefits that impact personality, physical health, and career, including:

  • Improving mood and physical health
  • Increasing empathy, optimism, and self-esteem
  • Reducing impatience and aggression
  • Improving sleep
  • Increasing mental and emotional strength
  • Reducing materialism and increases giving
  • Strengthing interpersonal connections and networks
  • Increasing praise of others
  • Finding meaning in work

Gratitude Changes Brain Structure!

Perhaps best of all, gratitude has been shown to change the neural structures in the brain for the better. Research conducted by UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center indicates that practicing gratitude not only increases feelings of happiness and contentment, but does so in part by triggering beneficial hormonal activity, increasing immune responses, and increasing neuroplasticity. Gratitude, it seems, literally helps us to adapt better to change.

However, these benefits don’t appear overnight. Lasting change takes time and effort.

What’s more, these practices need to be done realistically and in earnest to avoid a slide into “toxic positivity,” or relying on behaviors that refuse to acknowledge the negative in pursuit of the positive.

Simply putting on a happy face without addressing root causes of conflict or tension does nothing to fix those problems. Regulating emotion through suppression has been shown to have negative effects on mental and physical well-being.

Cultivating a Gratitude Practice

So how can you cultivate gratitude practice in your own life and in your own teams? Practices will vary from person to person — what works well for you may be less effective for another. The key is to find the practices that work for you. Then encourage your team members to find the practices that elevate them.

While you check out some resources for expanding your personal and organizational gratitude practices, here are some suggestions of ways you can get started today.

Write it down.

  • Write thank you notes. Keeping a packet of thank you notes handy makes it really easy to jot down a short note of gratitude to a colleague.
  • Write gratitude letters. Expand on your notes and write letters! In one recent study, participants who wrote letters of gratitude to others over the course of three weeks — whether they sent those letters or not — realized better mental health for months afterwards.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Jotting down reminders of the things that you are grateful for can be a great constant reminder of the ways you have it good. Some psychological studies show that we often remember the bad things more vividly than the good, and a gratitude journal might just help counteract that tendency.

Say it out loud.

  • Who doesn’t love a compliment? Think about a time when a few words of acknowledgement and encouragement have really made your day. Your words can do the same for a friend or colleague.

Meditate

  • While gratitude is certainly a social experience, as we have seen, the individual psychological, physical, and career benefits of gratitude are extremely personal. Therefore, a few minutes of meditation on gratitude every day will help keep you grounded throughout the day and keep you mindful of the real goals.

Gift-giving

  • Gifts can be a nice way to demonstrate gratitude, but they can also be showy and transactional. As a result, if you offer a present, make sure your giving is done in the correct spirit!

Constructive criticism

  • Critique is key to helping stay the course, but constructive criticism is almost always going to get a more effective and long-lasting result. Therefore, check that first impulse to offer criticism with a heavy hand and find ways to put a positive spin on the corrective course.

Volunteer

  • Working to help others in new projects can do wonders for empathy and team-building skills.

Most importantly, whatever practices you decide to incorporate, don’t wait to begin to build gratitude practices into your personal life as well as your professional life. The gratitude you cultivate today can lead to bounteous harvest in the future — for you and your organization.

Put Your Gratitude Practice into Action

Every person and every workplace is different. As a result, tailored solutions are often the ticket to successfully fostering a culture of gratitude in your organization.

  • Remember at all times that your colleagues are people, with hopes and flaws and passions. Above all, recognize these aspects in your communications!
  • In the middle of a big project? Hand-write thank you notes along the way to tell your team they’re doing great work.
  • Don’t have physical thank you notes at the ready? Even a little Post-It memo or a fun e-card can do the trick. (And then write yourself a Post-It memo to pick up a packet of thank you notes.)
  • You don’t need to wait for a staff meeting to make a big production of praising their contributions to the organization. Timeliness is sometimes more important than form. For example, feeling thankful for your colleague? Tell them ASAP!
  • Gratitude is not a one-way street! If a higher-up’s mentorship or guidance has influenced your work, it’s often helpful to let them know how their work has impacted you!
  • Offer to pick up a coffee or tea for your co-worker. Who doesn’t need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up?
  • Go beyond the Panera tray. Bake a homemade treat or pick up a locally-made artisanal snack to share with the team. Make sure to pay attention to dietary restrictions to include those who can be left feeling like the outsider at parties.
  • Recognize and appreciate where the ideas come from. When your colleagues know you see their efforts, they’re much more likely to keep the ideas flowing. Let your team members know how and when they’ve inspired an idea. Nothing builds teams like reminders of how their ideas and efforts have been invested.
  • Show your co-workers that you’re paying attention to their actual interests and outside activities. Learn about their favorite hobbies and cultural activities with an open mind and make that part of your ongoing conversation.
  • On completion of a big project, take the team to dinner and/or drinks at places where the team can feel comfortable, relaxed, and ready to enjoy each other’s company.

Join Givitas in Showing Gratitude

Are you a member of one of our free Givitas groups?

Every week, we’ll post a gratitude prompt and invite you to spend a moment or two reflecting and sharing your gratitude. Log in and check out this week’s prompt, and share your gratitude to enjoy some of these benefits!

About the Author

Based in Baltimore, MD, author Rahne Alexander learned the importance of organizational gratitude via 25 years of work in arts nonprofit management.

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