When organisations analyse their culture and determine their values, gratitude isn’t a trait that is likely to appear. Yet, more and more research is revealing the significant role it plays in elevating well-being, enhancing relationships and enabling progress.
In a working world that’s constantly changing and throwing up obstacles and challenges, the ability for leaders and employees to withstand stress and be resilient is critical.
The arrival of COVID-19 and its corresponding dislocation has made this more important than ever.
Why it matters
Gratitude is a virtue, a character trait and an emotion. At its core, it is a positive emotion that arises when you are aware of what you have and are thankful for it. Being grateful feels good.
Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process. Firstly, you recognise that you have obtained a positive outcome. Secondly, you know there is an external source that is responsible for that positive outcome.
I’d go further and suggest that gratitude is part of a broader life orientation, where you notice and appreciate what’s good in the world, and what you have. You can think of it as a mental frame of reference, which shapes how we see the world and ultimately think and act.
How it works
When we are predisposed to being grateful – to focusing on what’s good and what we have – it changes how we process what’s happening around us.
Why? Because emotions impact how we feel, and in doing that effect where we focus our attention and what we decide to do.
Research from Berkley University’s Greater Good Science Centre found that one of the keys to well-being is practising gratitude. Gratitude increases happiness levels, positive emotions, improve relationships, increase a person’s resilience to stressful events, as well as reducing the risk of depression.
How it helps teams
Emotions are contagious, and so emotions in the workplace matter.
Gratitude promotes pro-social behaviour, which means that team members who are more grateful have a higher likelihood of helping their colleagues. There’s even research that demonstrates that provoking feelings of gratitude in people resulted in more elaboration on ideas presented by their colleagues; in turn, generating ideas with higher creativity.
Practising gratitude in the workplace isn’t about ignoring emotions or feelings of stress, sadness or hurt. Instead, it’s about equipping leaders and employees with the strategies and mechanisms to best cope with challenges and change. So rather than letting a situation over-whelm or consume their every waking thought, they can progress through it.
Where can you start?
Psychologist and Author, Martin Seligman’s work changed much of the conventional thinking about happiness, optimism and treating depression.
His research shows that optimism is a learned trait.
He said: “Optimistic people generally feel that good things will last a long time and will have a beneficial effect on everything they do. And they think that bad things are isolated: They won’t last too long and won’t affect other parts of life“.
For example, his work with the US Army helping returning soldiers deal with the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) demonstrated that providing resilience and positive psychology training can lower rates of PTSD, substance abuse and depression.
A key element in doing this is cultivating a daily gratitude practice, which over time works to rewire the brain’s frame of reference. It is a simple practice where at the end of each day, a person writes down three things that went well and why.
Build daily practices
Leaders can adopt this practice in the workplace. As part of team meetings, build in reflective activities where the team focuses on where they have made progress and why.
Encourage your team to reflect on what went well and why. It is best to write these reflections down and ideally, do the practice each day. And remember, the achievement doesn’t have to be huge. It can be as simple as – I had a good client meeting, meetings ran on time today, or I completed an essential task.
Also, establish core rituals in the team where team members are encouraged to focus on what they can do for others. When you do something unexpectedly nice for someone else, it kicks off your brain’s happy chemicals – making you feel good.
Lastly, cultivate an environment where relationships matter. If you’re the leader, devote time to relationships every day. Ring team members and colleagues, or have a virtual coffee with them. No matter the role you hold, above all else, make the connections at work meaningful. Be open about what you are grateful for, and the gratitude you have for them.
Practising gratitude isn’t a one-off activity. For best results, it’s something that leaders and team members focus on each day.
It was the Roman Statesman, Cicero who proclaimed gratitude as not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. So what are you grateful for today?
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.