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Top Three Reasons to Build a Culture of Gratitude at Work

You’ve probably heard of the many benefits of gratitude in your personal life — increased feelings of happiness, improved relationships, better mental health, better immune function and sleep, even improved cardiovascular health — but you may not have realized how it can benefit your organization. Building affirmation and recognition into your organization’s culture will enable you to reap gratitude’s rewards.

Making gratitude an organizational habit helps foster a positive outlook, even in tough times. The following are the top three reasons to prioritize gratitude at work:

  1. Employees who feel valued will want to stay with your organization. Studies show that employees who don’t feel appreciated are motivated to leave. To retain talent, your organization’s leadership should embrace gratitude as a core principle for how employees are recognized and appreciated. One example of a gratitude-practicing leader is the former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, Doug Conant, who sent over 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to employees and clients during his tenure. As Conant writes, “When we model the necessary positive behaviors, those positive choices radiate outwards throughout the entire organization exponentially.”
  2. Practicing gratitude can help employees avoid burnout by increasing positive emotions at work. Burnout can be especially important issue for employees in helping professions, as leaders at Duke Hospital know. One of the Duke Hospital’s wellness initiative involves a display of “gratitude trees.” In hospitals and medical centers, paper trees are hung with post-it notes expressing gratitude for something a coworker or staff member did or for something positive in their lives. It’s a shared ritual in slowing down, recognizing the good and sharing that recognition with others.
  3. Gratitude improves performance. Gratitude leads employees to feel “prosocial,” or helpful and kind, to their fellow coworkers, and research shows that people who feel socially valued try harder. In one experiment, researchers divided fundraisers into two groups: those who received a visit from the director of annual giving, thanking them for their hard work, and those who received feedback daily, but without an expression of gratitude from the director. In the thanked group, the fundraisers’ call volume increased by 50% after the gratitude “intervention” took place.

In her writing on happiness, psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky writes, “Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present oriented.” What is going wrong easily grabs our attention, and at times we must deliberately choose to focus on what is going right. Making the choice to practice gratitude, though, is always worth the time and effort, in our personal lives and at work. Choosing to pause, recognize and appreciate what is going well and the employees who are making good things happen contributes to a happier, healthier and more productive organization.

Nanci Appleman-Vassil

Prior to establishing APLS Group in 2000, Nanci was a corporate training manager for R.H. Donnelley, the largest independent sales, marketing and publisher for the Yellow Pages industry. In this capacity, Nanci provided a full range of training and organization development services, including identifying, coaching and developing managers and other upper-tier employees to build a high-performance culture.

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