This article appeared in the Otago Daily Times on 21 December 2021. It is Christmas inspired but the message behind it applies all year round!
It’s that time of year when we are all reflecting and saying ‘thank you’ to colleagues, collaborators and customers. But, after my seventh generic “Merry-Christmas-and-Thank-You” message in one day, I wondered why we wait twelve months to thank them? We relentlessly train the little people in our lives to say “thank you”, so why do we lose that skill as adults, particularly in business?
The 2021 Southern Cross Workplace Wellness Report showed that the need for New Zealand business to invest in the wellbeing of our employees is becoming more recognised. But, as a nation of predominantly small businesses, many of the recommended ways of doing this are challenging. Some are too expensive (such as providing free counselling sessions); others cannot be resourced due to low staff numbers (such as giving more time off work). The good news about showing gratitude is that it is free.
Gratitude as a Business Concept
Simply put, gratitude is the state of a feeling of appreciation that the receiver of kindness, help, favours, or presents feels towards the giver. Its benefits for humankind in general have been recognised since ancient times. The Roman philosopher Cicero said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Now, more than ever, gratitude is relevant, because the last few years of uncertainty have left many of us feeling burned out and confused about how much what we do matters.
There is loads of research to show that gratitude is good for you and your relationships in business - internally with your staff and externally with your customers and stakeholders. Gratitude improves wellbeing, reduces stress, and builds resilience. It can improve your workplace culture, encouraging all team members to appreciate each other. It can improve your collaborations, because when we tell others that we value them, their willingness to help increases. Two recent gateway articles that lead on to other resources: “Giving Thanks At Work” by the Harvard Business Review and “The Benefits of Showing Gratitude in the Workplace” by Forbes magazine.
If Gratitude Is So Good, Why Do We Not Show It More In Business?
From my experience in a variety of sectors and organisations, I see that we are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anywhere else. Reasons for this include:
Employers have traditionally thought that paying their people is enough as a thank you for their work.
We may think that nothing is ‘free’ at work, that no one gives away anything (even gratitude) without expecting something in return.
We believe that showing appreciation could lead coworkers to take advantage of us because it makes us vulnerable.
We don’t acknowledge gratitude in our personal lives so we don’t see the value in it at work.
I often find at the heart of workplace conflict is people wanting to be thanked and appreciated, but they don’t show that to others. When we don’t say “thank you” as much as we should, we lessen the powerful effect it has on others — both for the giver and the receiver.
How to Show Our Gratitude
When, what and how you show it matters. Given how many of us end emails with the platitude “thanks”, just saying that is not enough. It is more powerful if you are specific about what you’re grateful for, explain why it has meaning for you, and say exactly what you appreciate about the person you are addressing. HBR gives some good tips on how to write a meaningful thank you. Express your gratitude as soon as possible after the relevant act. But, be careful not to do it too often so that it becomes meaningless.
To get the balance right, consider these ideas:
Lead by example: It needs to come from the top first, then it should filter down. To establish gratitude in your culture, you need to show your appreciation in a clear, consistent and genuine way - in both public and private forums.
Thank those who don’t often get noticed: You can thank the stars in your team but thanking those who do thankless work is essential to building a foundation of gratitude at every level of your business.
Think about (or find out) how individuals like to be thanked because each person’s language of appreciation is different. You risk missing the mark by assuming that everyone likes to get a gift, a coffee, or public praise.
Provide opportunities for gratitude: Embed them in the routine of your business, in meetings, have an “employee of the month” or an “appreciations page” on the platform your team communicates. The latter should let team members from all levels voice their gratitude.
Showing Gratitude Is A No Brainer
While we are still in this pandemic, we should focus on how to foster gratitude to get the best out of the situation and ourselves. Although the impact of being thankful is underestimated and we tend to forget to show gratitude when business gets busy, it is a no brainer. It is cost-effective, quick, available to everyone and has no negative side effects. There are many ways to show it, in ways to suit you and your team - the key is to be consistent and authentic. Now, here is my own generic “Merry-Christmas-and-Thank-You” message: Thank you for reading and have a great holiday!