November 2015: Building a Culture Of Gratitude

I’m sure many of you and your families are in the throes of preparing for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday celebration, with great anticipation of turkey and all the trimmings.  Around the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s natural to turn our thoughts to gratitude. Perhaps you are grateful for friends or family, but how often does the concept of gratitude and thankfulness come up at your workplace? Some employers believe you should be thankful to get a paycheck! Many other organizations include the concept of gratitude and gratefulness in their company mission statements. Why should anyone thank you for just doing your job? And why should you ever thank your coworkers for doing what they’re paid to do? I would invite each of you to consider this article by Jeremy Adams Smith entitled “Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work” that appeared on the Greater Good website a while back. (  I’ve included some excerpts below.  Our warmest wishes to you and yours for a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving holiday.  And we’re glad to have this opportunity to say “Thank You” to each of you for being part of our Whitaker family! C>


Building a culture of gratitude at work is not easy, but the science says it’s worth it. So here are five research-tested tips for fostering gratitude on the job:

1) Start at the Top: Employees need to hear “thank you” from the boss first. That’s because expressing gratitude can make some people feel unsafe, particularly in a workplace with a history of ingratitude. It’s up to the people with power to clearly, consistently, and authentically say “thank you” in both public and private settings. These efforts can also translate into protocols and procedures. When hiring someone new, bosses can ask: How do you wish to be thanked? When an employee leaves, throw them a goodbye party and take a moment to express appreciation for their qualities and contributions. Gratitude can also be built into performance reviews and staff meetings, where five minutes can be allocated for people to say “thanks” to each other.

2) Thank the people who never get thanked: Thanking those who do thankless work is crucial because it sets the bar and establishes the tone. Yes, faculty do the research and teaching core to a university’s mission, but without a cadre of staff behind them they’d have to raise money for their own salaries and empty their own wastebaskets. Public appreciation of, for example, administration and physical plant staff makes their contributions visible and thus broadens everyone’s understanding of how the organization functions-and needless to say, it improves morale and increases trust.

3) Aim for quality, not quantity: Forcing people to be grateful doesn’t work. It feeds the power imbalances that undermine gratitude in the first place, and it can make expressions of gratitude feel inauthentic. The key is to create times and spaces that foster the voluntary, spontaneous expression of gratitude. It’s also the case that studies consistently show that there is such a thing as too much gratitude-it seems trying to be grateful everyday induces gratitude fatigue. How do you convey authenticity? Details are decisive. When you are specific about the benefits of a person, action, or thing, it increases your own appreciation-and it tells a person that you are paying attention, rather than just going through the motions.

4) Provide many opportunities for gratitude: When people are thanked for their work, they are more likely to increase their helping behavior and to provide help to others. But not everyone likes to be thanked-or likes to say “thank you”-in public. They may be shy or genuinely modest. The key is to create many different kinds of opportunities for gratitude. You don’t need to build a website-a bulletin board will do, sometimes called a “Gratitude Wall.” But this kind of project will work best if it encourages the “thank you” to target actual human beings instead of things. Gift-giving is another way to foster gratitude. Research shows that giving gifts may have an important effect on working relationships and reciprocity-and non-monetary gifts are the most beneficial of all. You can say “thanks” by taking on scut work, lending a parking space, or giving a day off. These kinds of non-monetary gifts can lead to more trust in working relationships, if it’s reciprocal, sincere, and altruistically motivated.

5) In the wake of crisis, take time for thanksgiving: Cultivating a culture of gratitude might be the best way to help a workplace prepare for stresses that come with change, conflict, and failure. Making gratitude a policy and a practice “builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall,” writes psychologist Robert Emmons. “There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.” Gratitude helps employees to see beyond one disaster and recognize their gains. Ideally, it gives them a tool “to transform an obstacle into an opportunity,” as Emmons writes, and reframe a loss as a potential gain. If your office has gone through a crisis, hold a meeting with the aim of gaining a new perspective on the incident.

The science says we Americans need to overcome our aversion to gratitude on the job, and come to see it as just one more career skill we can cultivate alongside skills like communication, negotiation, and forgiveness. It’s something anyone can learn-from which everyone will benefit.

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