Gratitude is the Best Attitude

“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.”

– Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky

Although everyone is familiar with the term gratitude, as with every expression there are a multitude of ways of interpreting its meaning, particularly in a professional context. As Dr Lyubomirsky says it can play a major role to counteract and prevent negative emotions, which are generally toxic und rarely beneficial. Gratitude is far more complex than a quick “thank you”, in fact if expressed in a superficial or inappropriate way a thank you can actually have a far more negative impact than most would believe. In order to express gratitude, one must have a clear understanding of what the challenge comprised what its completion really entailed and the employee’s starting position. Did the employee go that famous extra mile to complete the task, go beyond what they would normally have delivered – exceed expectations? Then obviously a higher level of gratitude is appropriate, but if this was not the case it may cause confusion: this was not a major challenge and yet I was really thanked, but last year when I worked so hard to achieve XYZ no one said anything…. many employees need to feel that their true value is being recognised, rather than receiving a perfunctory expression of appreciation for a task they did not consider challenging.

Leading by recognition

Many studies into leadership skills have highlighted the beneficial qualities of genuine recognition as a motivational factor, estimating that this may lead to as much as a 15% increase in employee engagement. Appreciation is a fundamental human need; employees want to see the sense in what they are doing and that their input is being accurately assessed and valued. For this reason, around 64% of employees would even be prepared to change job, if they thought they would receive greater recognition elsewhere – this has nothing to do with monetary incentives, but rather it is the feeling that someone is sufficiently interested in what they do to assess it and react accordingly. Bear in mind that such acts of appreciation involve no extra cost to a company, but the lack of them can cause huge monetary shortfall in terms of turnover and reduced engagement.

The happiness factor

Is there such a thing as a happy employee? The term happy is often mistakenly understood as an emotion, whereas in this context it is more a state of mind: it is not about being positive and happy all the time, but rather about accepting emotions, understanding them and letting go of frustrations, even if this means living with negative emotions. This explains why happy may be mistakenly used when really words like fulfilled, motivated and committed would be more appropriate to a professional context and yet if an employee is not happy with what they do or can no longer identify with the company culture sooner or later they will decide to make a change and look for a more positive working environment. In this ever faster moving age of digitalisation, no one can rest on their laurels without acquiring new competencies and adapting to the use of new tools, a good leader will encourage this mindset by providing support and guidance, but this will only bear fruit if it falls on open ears. This does not mean that employees are not equally peer motivated responding to the challenge of being a great team player and gaining recognition as a valued member of the team. Perhaps this can make the difference between being chosen for a more interesting project, gaining promotion or receiving additional training options, either way it is highly motivational and based on constructive positive feedback. Some studies suggest that as many as 90% of employees feel motivated by recognition to do a better job.

The importance of feedback

Companies have many different ways of expressing gratitude and recognition depending on their corporate culture, once again there is no one fits all: the “employee of the month” crown hailed in some branches would be regarded with distaste in others, so it is important to keep methods appropriate to the context and also the employee concerned. The specific company culture and values will serve as a basis for the definition of the most appropriate approach and thus avoid generating unhealthy competition among employees. The objective is to encourage and motivate and not to sow jealousy and disharmony. But it is only by taking previously determined expectations and objectives into account that one can really appreciate what has been achieved, above all it is essential to be transparent and fair. Not every company has a culture of constructive feedback, even though this has been proven to encourage knowledge sharing and higher achievement levels – learning by doing, after all only those who do nothing never make a mistake! The implementation of a No Blame Culture can be very useful in this context. Once providing feedback has become a habit rather than something to be wary of, it will be used regularly and wisely. If a company has a structured appraisal system, this regular feedback could also flow into the annual appraisal meetings, thus ensuring a view of the entire past year rather than the past couple of weeks or the bad things no one has forgotten. This in turn will ensure that appraisals are based on overall performance and are therefore both accurate and more readily accepted. Furthermore, an ongoing feedback process can help to identify potential issues at an early stage, when they can still be rectified, whereas this would probably not be possible a year later. Of course, there is a difference between providing feedback and expressing gratitude, but there is no reason why positive feedback should not be combined with gratitude.

Can gratitude “go” virtual?

The risk of remote working is that all too often empathy and appreciation are neglected in favour of working on concrete challenges and meeting deadlines. In the past, personal interaction provided ready opportunities for even brief feedback for example during a lunch or coffee break and expressions of gratitude and recognition, whereas colleagues are unlikely to use online communication tools such as Slack or zoom for this purpose. It therefore becomes all the more important to take the time to express thanks whether in the form of an email, via internal chat or by calling the colleague concerned – the method is less important than the act itself! One option could perhaps be to integrate a virtual wall of gratitude as part of an existing Intranet or add this element to regular team meetings. This is of course a topic, which may be included in your CSR strategy and can be closely linked to your value definition. The mere fact that the possibility to express gratitude exists should serve to encourage your employees to use it and above all enhance consciousness of this need. Once a culture of gratitude has been embedded in your overall culture everyone will automatically adopt their preferred method.

Take the time to thank a colleague for their support, for an excellent piece of work or simply for their forbearance when you have been late meeting a deadline. A little understanding goes a long way and will always help to avoid conflictual situations and unnecessary misunderstandings. Whether in a physical or virtual work situation, human beings need to see the sense in what they are doing and this can really only be achieved thanks to feedback and recognition when it is due. It is rather like smiling when you talk to someone on the phone: the person you are talking to can sense it rather than see it, but they still experience a positive reaction. Positivity can motivate us all to achieve so much, don’t waste such potential. Take the time to express gratitude today!

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