I was recently browsing The Five Minute Journal, a tool developed to inspire us to reflect on the things we are grateful for at the start and end of each day. Its creators envision increased happiness and better relationships through this form of journaling (Intelligent Change, 2018). This got me thinking of gratitude in the workplace. Do more grateful leaders and followers make for a better place to work?
A neglected quality for leadership
Gratitude is generally portrayed in psychology and philosophy as a positive emotion and a moral virtue of character, deemed by all major religions an essential quality for living well. Its widespread appeal is reflected in a growing number of popular books and tools promoting the value of gratitude. Yet when it comes to leadership in organisations, gratitude remains one of the most neglected emotions, relatively underexplored in research and perhaps underused in practice. When I ask my classes what effective leadership entails, I typically get various responses covering confidence, influence, communication, resilience, etc., but gratitude almost never makes it onto the list!
Why gratitude is good for us all
A quick dictionary search presents gratitude as ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness’, derived from the Latin ‘gratus’ meaning pleasing or thankful (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018). From an organisational standpoint, a recent paper presents a multilevel model conceptualising gratitude as (1) an episodic emotion in response to an event or experience, (2) a persistent tendency to feel grateful at the individual level, and (3) a collective or shared sense of gratitude at the organisational level (Fehr, Fulmer, Awtrey, & Miller, 2017). The scarce literature that does exist on gratitude at work points to the benefits of individual and collective gratitude in organisations. For instance, gratitude can reduce depressive symptoms via positive reframing, and thus can have a positive impact on employee well-being. It can also encourage prosocial behaviour as well as strengthen workplace relationships.
It’s simply done…
Expressing gratitude could be as simple as saying ‘thank you’ to appreciate someone for their effort: ‘Thank you for a job well done’, ‘I appreciate your support with my presentation today’, or ‘we have not had a single complaint since you joined our team’ etc. It may also be more formally displayed through opportunities for positive developmental feedback or recognition awards, for instance. Overall, a leader who is grateful toward others gains their respect, wins their trust, encourages more effort, and perhaps even expands their appreciation, thus generating a cycle of gratefulness.
…but incredibly effective
Whether your team or organisational culture is energised by gratitude, or is indifferent or even cynical towards this seemingly soft quality, I cannot help but wonder whether it is really possible not to want to be thanked or feel valued and appreciated? So I end by inviting you to reflect on your own experience, do you explicitly express gratitude toward others around you? What strategies would help to nurture and sustain an attitude of gratitude in your work context? Perhaps a useful starting point would be, as the Five Minute Journal suggests, to write a list of things other people contribute that you are grateful for. Then take the time to express genuine and specific gratitude to those on the list. Simple. Free. Powerful.
by Dr Amal Ahmadi