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When was the last time your boss thanked you for achieving something at work? Can you think of a moment or was it too long ago? If that’s too hard basket, ask yourself when was the last time you thanked your colleague for their impact in a project or on the business? It probably isn’t part of your daily practice, but gratitude at work should be. Here’s why:
While we might thank our friends when they do us a favour or the barista who got our coffee order spot-on, research shows that very few of us feel thankful for our jobs, much less express gratitude. A 2013 survey of 2,000 people by the John Templeton Foundation found that not only did most people feel better when someone thanked them, but also reported improved mood when they thanked another worker.
In other words, expressing appreciation is a mood booster just as surely as receiving praise. And yet, few of us do so regularly: the same survey found that a huge 60% of workers never express gratitude to their colleagues.
Studies show that people who feel grateful for the good things in their lives are more even tempered, happier, and feel better supported by others – all traits which make an excellent employee and contribute to positive workplace culture. We also know that grateful people in high-stress careers, such as teachers, are less likely to burn out. That’s not only good for the employee, but good for the company: a lower turnover rate means recruitment costs stay low, and happy, engaged employees demonstrate higher job performance.
Anyone has the ability to lead by example and create a gratitude culture amongst your employees; whether or not you are a manager. But leaders who walk their talk and model gratitude for the work that their team members do will pay dividends in productivity and morale and from there, help your company’s bottom line.
The Templeton survey found that 81% of respondents would work harder for a more grateful boss, as well as feeling better about themselves and their workplace. Even more of the respondents (90%) felt that a boss who expresses gratitude was more successful than one who didn’t, putting to rest the idea that thanking your staff is a sign of weakness.
With everything to gain from expressing gratitude and nothing to lose, here are some tips for how to model a thankful workplace for the good of all.
Seek out opportunities to ‘catch’ your employees doing something right. Acknowledging and appreciating employees doing something right is a far more successful path to work excellence than continually pointing out what they are doing wrong. The problem for a lot of managers is that work well done is by its nature more invisible than mistakes, so you will have to make a conscious effort to look for the good in your employees’ day.
Be specific and authentic. A manager who limits their praise to a generalised “good job, everyone!” might as well not bother. For praise to feel authentic, it should be targeted to the individual and based on concrete actions.
Encourage gratitude sharing within your team. Kick off your team meeting by going around and sharing something at work that each member feels thankful for. It might feel awkward at first, but you’ll find that the rest of the conversation takes a different tone from a meeting to which everyone has brought their grievances and resentments.
Or do what Plasticity Labs did, and ask your employees to devote time to write down the things about their job that make them thankful. Researchers saw immediate improvements in morale and lower turnover in the group that did the exercise regularly, making it well worth the investment in time to facilitate.
Cultivate the habit of feeling as well as expressing gratitude in your own time. Dr. Robert Emmons, who is spearheading a three-year project at the University of California called Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, is a firm believer in keeping a gratitude journal. Take time at the beginning or end of each day and write down five things that you’re grateful for that day. As you continue to practice gratitude, you become more attuned to feeling it, and your thank-you to staff and colleagues will benefit from the added sincerity.
Nobody’s saying that you should ignore your own contributions or be craven in your dealings with your team, but it is worth realising, and believing, that your success as a leader rests very largely with the abilities of the people on the journey with you. When you say thank you to them for working hard, innovating and pulling together, you should mean it: their success is your success. This is well worth modelling for your team’s sake as well; a good employee is someone who recognises that they can learn from one another and is grateful to the people who help them become better.
Make sure your employees have the tools, training and sufficient time to accomplish their tasks and meet company goals. Few things make employees feel more unappreciated, frustrated and unhappy as not having the appropriate resources for their job.
By checking in with them about what support they need, you’re telling them that you do support them, because you’re grateful for what they bring to the company. That combination of physical and emotional investment in them as employees is a powerful tool in making your team great.
If all of this seems awkward or overwhelming, don’t panic. Gratitude, like most things, is a learned art. With practice, you’ll find that feeling and expressing gratitude in the workplace becomes part of your daily interaction with colleagues and employees. Be concise, sincere and consistent, and the whole company will reap the benefits. Now that’s something to be.