Giving Thanks Will Make You a Better Leader

For many people, “thanks-giving” is a tradition that happens around the dinner table once a year. But research suggests that leaders should encourage gratitude in the workplace year-round.

The Science of Gratitude:  Gratitude can be defined as a positive emotion felt after receiving something valuable. And science has shown that people who are grateful feel happier. They have an improved sense of well-being, higher self-esteem, experience less depression and anxiety, and they also sleep better.

The Gratitude Gap in the Workplace:  Despite its compelling benefits, expressing gratitude doesn’t always happen at work. A recent Glassdoor survey found that 80% of employees say they would be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss.

So why is there a gratitude gap in the workplace? Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant believes it’s because people don’t like to admit they need help at work, and many believe thanking someone means admitting you couldn’t do it all on your own.

How to Be More Grateful

Ready to reap gratitude’s many benefits? Luckily, you don’t need any fancy tools or advanced degrees. Here are 3 simple exercises that have been scientifically proven to boost your gratitude levels.

  1. Send a note expressing your gratitude. Writing a letter thanking someone for the positive impact he or she has had in your life is a great way to boost your gratitude. Or, send a text, if you prefer. Take out your phone right now (if it’s not out already), and send a simple text to someone you’re grateful to have in your life and let them know that you are thinking of them.
  2. Keep a gratitude journal – or even just a list. Keeping a journal of people and things for which you’re grateful can increase your feelings of gratitude. If you’re not the journaling type, don’t worry; making a short list works, too. Just jot down 3 things you’re grateful for on a Post-It note. Stick it somewhere you’ll see it often, and refresh it weekly.
  3. Take time for reflection. Simply reflecting on the many aspects of your job — large and small — for which you’re grateful can boost gratitude levels. These might include supportive work relationships, sacrifices or contributions that others have made for you, advantages or opportunities, or gratitude for the opportunity to have your job in general. Going on a short “gratitude walk” is a great way to take time out for this reflection.

 How to Increase Gratitude in the Workplace

  1. Offer thank-you cards. During his tenure at Campbell Soup, then-CEO Doug Conant wrote 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to his employees. This practice, along with others, has been credited with how he created a culture of gratitude and turned around a struggling company. Do 30,000 letters seem daunting? Take a page out of Mark Zuckerberg’s playbook and aim for just one a day. To encourage others to do the same, emulate Starbucks and offer unlimited company thank-you cards for employees to use.
  2. Make a gratitude wall. Create a designated space for employees to share shout-outs and words of thanks. This can be a wall, a whiteboard, a flip chart in a common area…be creative! A public, anonymous display of gratitude is a great way to introduce gratitude into the workplace culture and keep employees feeling appreciated.
  3. Start meetings with gratitude. A simple way to cultivate gratitude at work is to begin meetings by sharing a short statement of appreciation (remember the difference this made in the fundraising center study!). Or, if you want to take this approach to the next level, try having everyone in the meeting share one thing they’re grateful for — it makes a great icebreaker.
  4. When things go wrong, count your blessings. It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well. But gratitude can have an even bigger impact if you’re going through a rough patch. So, next time something goes wrong at work, see if you can find the silver lining. What did you learn from the experience? What opportunity did it offer you? Share these insights with your team. Being able to be truly grateful during times of challenge and change is a great way to stop negative rumination spirals and get people motivated and energized.
  5. Be grateful for people, not performance. Sometimes, gratitude initiatives can feel like old recognition programs warmed over. To avoid this feeling, focus on social worth and think about how people have made a difference. Give thanks for people’s willingness, enthusiasm, commitment, or efforts — not their impact on the bottom line.
  6. Customize your thanks-giving. Practicing gratitude requires thinking about how specific people like to be thanked, and tailoring your gratitude accordingly. Thanking a very shy person at the global quarterly meeting might come across more like punishment than recognition.
  7. Be specific in your gratitude. Saying “thanks for being awesome” doesn’t have the same impact as “thank you for always getting to meetings 5 minutes early to set up the projector; I know that our meetings wouldn’t go as well if we didn’t have you.
  8. Don’t fake it. Authenticity and vulnerability are key parts of gratitude. If you can’t think of anything you’re truly grateful for, don’t try to fake it. Most people can tell when thanks isn’t heartfelt, and fake gratitude is probably worse than none at all.

Lastly, research shows that whether you’re an absolute novice or gratitude guru, everyone can reap the positive benefits of giving and receiving thanks. So, get out there and start encouraging more gratitude in the workplace!

Article Excerpt from the Center of Creative Leadership 2019