For Thanksgiving: Gratitude in the Workplace

One of our trainers at Barnes & Conti—and this is someone who has trained in all kinds of companies and industries—has told me repeatedly that just about every department, organization, and/or company is beset with problems. Yet in so many cases, as my trainer friend has observed, the element that holds these organizations together, the thing that keeps them going is the people. That is to say that at each and every level, there are competent, conscientious folk who hold the organization together. My Thanksgiving challenge to you is to find some of these people in your organization, and show them some gratitude.

“Gratitude? In times of economic recession? What am I going to talk about next, happiness in the workplace? You bet! Gratitude is one of the “Five Steps to Happiness at Work” identified by Timothy Sharp, Ph.D. Dr. Sharp writes (1):

Employees want to be valued as members of a team and organization. But they also want to be told, frequently and appropriately, that they are valued, as people. They want to be thanked and appreciated for their accomplishments. When managers and colleagues openly congratulate employees for their wins or efforts, it makes everyone happier.

This is entirely consistent with a great deal of research into the social and emotional benefits of gratitude. As psychologist Robert Emmons argues in his book THANKS!, gratitude enhances our sense of self-worth, while at the same time strengthening social ties. Expressing gratitude, he found in his studies, increases the happiness of both giver and receiver.

Lest you think I’ve gone all touchy-feely on you, I have long been convinced that satisfied—if not happy—employees benefit the organization and affect the bottom line. Here’s what Charles Kerns says in Graziadio Business Report of Pepperdine University (2):

Gratitude is not just a “feel good” emotion when it comes to organizational life. It can benefit an organization in many ways. When an employee believes his or her superiors are grateful for his or her work, the employee will benefit by having an improved sense of worth to the organization. This improved sense of worth can lead to performance improvement, thereby benefiting the organization. Further, the person expressing gratitude benefits from that expression, which also may positively impact the organization. For instance, research has shown that persons who are genuinely grateful may be more optimistic, experience improved health, and perhaps even have extended life spans. All of these benefits also potentially benefit the organization for which that person works.

Gratitude = better performance. And better performance can mean better profits.

Since Thanksgiving is around the corner, allow me to mention the turkeys. I’m not talking about your roasted and stuffed “big bird”; I mean the workplace turkeys. Workplace turkeys are the opposite of grateful colleagues; they gleefully take credit for your work with unshakeable self-confidence. And their self-confidence is often in inverse ratio to their competence, or so it seems.

The most distinguishing characteristic of  these turkeys is that they don’t know they are turkeys. (3) So if you think you might be one, you almost certainly aren’t. However, as Thanksgiving and the whole holiday madness approaches, I hope you’ll think about showing gratitude and leave the turkey-like behavior for the birds.

—Joel Kleinbaum

Who is grateful for each and every person who reads this blog.

(1) “Five Steps to Happiness at Work” by Timothy Sharp, Ph.D., Greater Good Magazine

(2) “Gratitude at Work: Counting your blessings will benefit yourself and your organization” by Charles D. Kerns, Ph.D. Graziadio Business Report, Pepperdine University

(3) While not a direct quote, this was inspired by Sandra Boynton, author of Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down

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