A Gratitude Attitude for Productivity

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of habits and strategies for changing our habits. Last week, I focused specifically on how we can eliminate a universal bad habit: procrastination. The truth is, though, that we can’t just get rid of the bad apples. It’s important to incorporate new, positive habits as well. That’s why this week, I’m focusing on gratitude. Adding gratitude into your workday can improve your wellbeing and productivity. It’s especially important to cultivate a grateful attitude in times of crisis. Here are some key points to know on the subject.

Barriers Blocking Gratitude

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley wrote about reasons why we hesitate to practice gratitude here. Unfortunately, we often stop ourselves from expressing thanks because we’re worried about image. We might be concerned that expressions of gratitude will come across as insincere. Even worse, we may fear seeming like we’re kissing up to superiors if we thank them. On the flip side, workplace leaders worry that gratitude might be taken as a sign of weakness. At the end of the day, it may also be just one more thing in an already overbooked schedule. We feel we don’t have time for it!

However, these excuses are just that: excuses. Chester Elton, an author and motivational speaker well-versed in leadership practices, calls them out in this interview. In fact, research demonstrates that these excuses aren’t justified. For instance, this article cites the statistic that fewer than one in five employees believe expressions of gratitude make bosses seem “weak.” Whereas the risk of incorporating this habit is minimal, the payoff is massive. The science tells a compelling story.

Growth Through Gratitude

In that same interview, Elton notes that gratitude drives employee motivation and productivity. Whereas less than half of employees feel motivated by fear of consequences at work, over 80% “work harder” when their superiors express thanks. According to The Greater Good Science Center, this may be the result of a host of specific benefits. For instance, gratitude increases employee engagement and connection. This series of experiments found that expressions of gratitude in the workplace made employees feel more valued. This sense of value encouraged them to engage in more prosocial behavior and help those around them. According to this study, grateful expression in the workplace also boost job satisfaction.

The benefits of gratitude practices can transcend the workplace too. In the past, I’ve identified workplace stress as a major challenge for the working world. Fortunately, research has found a link between gratitude in the workplace and stress reduction. Being less stressed at work makes life better overall, so this next finding is no surprise. According to this research, gratitude interventions in the workplace increase employees’ overall sense of wellbeing and decrease the number of sick days they take. Expressing more thankfulness at work will not only boost your work itself but also your quality of life!

Strategies to Build a Gratitude Attitude

Having established the argument for incorporating gratitude into the workday, let’s consider some tangible strategies. The Greater Good Science Center lists some important factors to approaching this habit here. First and foremost, be authentic. Gratitude works best when it’s sincere. Additionally, be sure you express appreciation for the whole person you address, not just specific actions or accomplishments. Third, express gratitude in ways that suit the person to whom you’re grateful. If he appreciates words of affirmation, write him a card. If she feels appreciated by acts of service, offer to help her with a report as a gesture of thanks. Making your appreciation personal to yourself and its recipient will boost that impact.

There are also plenty of tips and tricks everyone can use on a daily basis to make gratitude a habit. One idea from this article involves putting 10 coins in your left pocket every weekday morning. The idea is to move one coin into your right pocket every time you express thanks at work that day. The goal is to work up to expressing appreciation at least ten times every day with this trick. Another idea is to use a gratitude journal, as this article suggests. Whatever you choose, it will work best if you make gratitude part of your routine. Wellness coach Naz Beheshti writes in her article for Forbes that even a small part of your routine like brushing your teeth can be the right entry point for making gratitude a regular practice. Just make sure you’re setting yourself up to easily practice appreciation.

Taking the Lead

As The Greater Good Science Center writes here, leaders have to participate in order for gratitude to become the norm in a workplace. This means incorporating gratitude into the routines of your organization or team. For instance, consider ending every meeting by asking one person to express thanks to someone else in the (Zoom) room. Even better, as this study suggests, model gratitude yourself by publicly expressing appreciation in meetings with your employees. 

On an organizational level, research recommends adopting policies like an employee appreciation program. This might involve allowing employees to send one another kudos in a public forum. In general, one major element of fostering a culture of gratitude involves highlighting the interdependence between coworkers. Boosting communication and collaboration through a platform like Pyrus can increase the likelihood of employees recognizing one another’s contributions.

Some ideas in studies like this one may seem obsolete in COVID-19 pandemic times. However, there’s never been a more urgent need for gratitude. Even when we can’t post gratitude boards in the break room or provide employees with thank-you cards to exchange in person, expressing thanks remains critical.

Why Now?

As research has noted, collective gratitude in an organization fosters resilience. This article concurs that gratitude must be a key element of any company’s response to the current pandemic circumstances. In the interview I cited earlier, Elton emphasizes that the pandemic has highlighted the prevalence of negative news and sentiments around us. It is imperative for leaders to respond in this environment with increased appreciation for the good that remains. 

This HBR article has some fantastic ideas for virtual practices that can increase gratitude in your team or organization. For instance, you can make daily or weekly “gratitude showers” through virtual meetings. These meetings, lasting literally two minutes, ask everyone present to write one message of thanks into the chat. Then, the meeting host saves the chat log, ends the meeting, and posts the log where it will be accessible to employees to view in the future. This great virtual practice can begin or continue a gratitude attitude in your workplace through tough times.

I hope you’ll all take one practice from this blog to implement in your daily life. I’ll sign off for now. I’ve got to go write a virtual thank you note!