How to Use the Gratitude Advantage at Work

6 Tactics for Powering Your Success by Expressing Thanks

Lona Collins is 107 years old. When a reporter asked what she does to stay young, she said gratitude. “Don’t go crabbin’,” she advised.

Most of us know about the gratitude advantage. Research shows that expressing thanks leads to lower stress, better relationships, improved health, and more. But there’s one place we’re unlikely to express gratitude—work.

I once took my team to meet with a major author about his publishing program. We had good news and a compelling presentation. But the author and his staff had their eyes on the hole, not the donut.

When we finished, they asked why we hadn’t accomplished more and offered a litany of complaints.

We left utterly deflated. “Honestly,” said one of my people on the way to the airport, “that meeting made me want to quit.” In our two hours together, not one person on the author’s team expressed an ounce of gratitude.

That lack of gratitude is more common than you might think. In fact, a study by the John Templeton Foundation found that work is the last place we experience any sort of gratitude.

This is a big problem. Practically speaking, most of us spend more waking time at the office than anywhere else. That means if we expect to use the gratitude advantage to our benefit, work is actually the best place to do it.

It may be an uphill climb, but these six tactics can help you power your success by expressing thanks:

  1. Recognize the value. About half of HR managers say that workplace gratitude improves profitability. The truth is the number is probably a lot higher, and the reason is simple. As Jeremy Adam Smith says, “We don’t just work for money. We also work for respect, for a sense of accomplishment, for a feeling of purpose.” Gratitude engages more of what motivates us.

  2. Commit to it. Most of us know we should express thanks, but the Templeton study found only about one in ten of us actually does on any given day. In fact, about a third are afraid to do so. We need to step outside our comfort zones and commit to changing that statistic today.

  3. Share the love. None of us can do it alone. Even solopreneurs need a team. When you experience success, look for ways to acknowledge the contributions of your fans, friends, colleagues, clients—anyone who played a role. It doesn’t make less of your success; it makes more of how you scored.

  4. Highlight specifics. The more detailed you can be the better. “When you are specific about the benefits of a person, action, or thing,” says Smith, “it increases your own appreciation—and it tells a person that you are paying attention, rather than just going through the motions.”

  5. Use implementation intentions. Thinking through probable scenarios and formulating your response ahead of time helps turn intention into reality. These are called implementation intentions, and they are shown to increase the likelihood we’ll follow through on what we intend. Here are some examples:

    • If Susan finalizes the deal today, then I will congratulate her and thank her for her contribution to the team.
    • When John gets me the report, I will remember to swing by his desk and thank him in person.
    • If we hit the annual goals, then I will bring champagne to business reviews and toast the division leaders.
  6. Lead from where you are. Experts (and employees) recognize that it’s best when leaders go first. But leadership is not position; it’s influence. That means you can start wherever you are in your organization and have in an impact in your own life and your company.

My guess is that the author who deflated me and my team had no idea the amount of damage he had caused us—and to himself. He apparently forgot that, at the end of the day, everyone is a volunteer.

People will only go so far in the performance of a duty. And they will underperform when they feel underappreciated.

If you want people’s very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. Gratitude is the most effective currency for keeping people engaged and performing at their best. That’s true for you and the people you lead.

How often do you feel or express gratitude at work?

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