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Why is gratitude important and how do we do it well?

The presence of gratitude is a key driver of culturally healthy organisations. Research shows it operates like a gateway emotion; one which gives people the personal resource needed to work in a  healthier more human way. But what is it about saying thank you that makes all the difference? And how do we do this in a genuine way in the workplace?

Genuine gratitude nourishes your soul

Genuine gratitude is not just saying thank you, it is a state of mind. It is a choice to focus on what we have, not what we don’t; to continually attribute great value to the things we take for granted - like life itself - as opposed to focusing our emotional energy on something that we see as missing or deficient. It is about balance and perspective. Saying thank you for gifts is easy; staying grateful every day is not.

This requires some deliberate application. We need reminding of our need for gratitude. This is particularly the case in a Western consumer culture where we are surrounded by messages that seek to exploit our want for more than we have.

Studies show that gratitude journaling, even if only for 15 minutes, improves positive emotions. The flow on effect from actively expressing our gratitude helps people understand one another better, appreciate our differences and feel positively motivated about our work. Creating and committing to organisational wide appreciation practices will build a positive emotional reserve within an organisation - the soul of the organisation, even. People feel better, whether they are giving or receiving. This cultivates an environment ripe to grow the other cornerstones of a living breathing learning organisation fit for the 21st Century; trust, forgiveness, empathy and resilience.

Genuine gratitude nourishes relationships

The outcome of actively giving attention to gratitude will have a powerful effect on all our relationships. We are more fun to be around; we become a positive influence; we remind people of what matters; we are an antidote to the white cultural noise that tells people they are insufficient.

More directly, practising gratitude towards others: saying thank you and demonstrating appreciation for them is what glues great teams together.

But our gratitude must be authentic. It should not be motivated by an attempt to receive something in return or to drive certain behaviours. That may well come, but it should feel more like a side effect than a “return on gratitude”.

Here are some recommendations to do gratefulness well and authentically at work:

Gratitude should be shown without an immediate cause.

Show gratitude simply to illustrate your value for who someone is, not just what they do. Being grateful doesn’t require people doing something first - in particular, doing something for us. Otherwise, we run the risk of doing it to get something in return or drive certain behaviours that we want to see. It becomes about us, not them. The fact that this kind of gratitude is often unexpected illustrates how little our cultures are grateful for people just because.

Make it about the individual, not their achievement.

Think ‘thank you for your awesome tenacity’ rather than ‘thanks for doubling sales’.

Give it how they like to receive it, not how you like to give it.

We all feel love and affirmation in different ways but default to expressing it the way we feel most affirmed. For example, if we love receiving gifts, that’s how we show love to other people. But some people are not fussed by gifts, they prefer words of affirmation. Dr Gary Chapman’s Love Languages and Languages of Appreciation are worth reading.

Gratitude must be expressed by everyone.

For a variety of reasons, the cultural norm is to seek the professional and personal approval of those in a position of influence over us. This isn't particularly healthy, but those in a formal leadership capacity must recognise it nevertheless. They also need to model what they seek. If gratitude is sought as a cultural value, then leadership must be expressing it as they think it should be. Campbell Soup CEO wrote 30,000 thank you notes and Southwest Airlines started sending out appreciation pins to leaders to pass on to employees instead of directly to employees.

Gratitude must be frequent and contextual.

A retreat or annual gratitude gifting session is great - but it won’t turn the ship. Build in gratitude to everyday meetings and it will take hold.


Finally, in the spirit of the topic, thank you for giving your time to reading this. It really shows your commitment to making the world a better place - starting at work. Brilliant!

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  1. John Featherby

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