Gratitude at work: Not on a balance sheet, but matters a metric ton

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Thanksgiving season and all (in the U.S. at least), so let’s dedicate a little bit of time to the power of gratitude at work. Previously written about the power of friends at work, and this is somewhat connected. Let’s start with a little research on the power of gratitude.

Here we’ve got a study from the University of Kentucky about how gratitude reduces aggression. There’s also been 51 different studies showing that gratitude in a workplace can be a bigger, better motivator than compensation and bonuses. (I’ve mentioned this before too.) Much of this is cited in this recent article from Fast Company on the power of gratitude.

So, from an academic/research standpoint, we have some evidence for the power of gratitude. That’s good! However, if you’ve ever worked in an office, you know that a lot of guys who come to run companies give major side-eye to academia and research. “That’s ivory tower shit,” they snarl, “and I’m a revenue-generator.” Plus, because we all worship daily at The Temple of Busy, no one feels like they have time to read research and then implement it into their organizations.

The other issue is that a topic like “the power of gratitude” is tied to something like “employee recognition,” right? Guys who run companies — revenue hounds, usually — view a topic like that as “the domain of HR.” So HR works on it, but because most of the execs don’t care about HR, it’s kind of a tree falls in a forest problem. HR could come up with the best employee recognition concept ever, and some executive would be like “Push that meeting! I need to analyze Q3 revenue strategy!” We’ve all seen this. Let me explain work to you in a quick sentence: “This shit matters, and this shit does not, but we’ll claim both matter equally!”

This creates a complex picture around the power of gratitude at work. What now?

The easiest, most basic case for the power of gratitude at work

You spend a lot of time there. Gratitude underscores the entire human experience. So wouldn’t you want to work at a place that realizes the power of gratitude? Most people spend about 55 hours/week or so interacting with work. Who wants to do that in a place sans gratitude?

Seems logical. So why is the power of gratitude so often not present at work?

A lot of different reasons. Here are a few:

  • It seems like a fluffy concept; the true decision-makers want to focus on making money.
  • HR owns it and not a lot of powerful people care about HR.
  • Most people view work as a quest for relevance, which is often individual in nature — so you might be less concerned about gratitude.
  • Most managers view their jobs as “hitting numbers” for their boss, not showing gratitude to others.
  • Work is supposed to be this “adult” thing that you come in and act “professional” around, and “the power of gratitude” seems like a children’s book title.
  • We force people to work in teams, but then promote individuals — so people try and protect their own turf/goals, which runs counter to gratitude.

Those are just a few issues I’ve seen at different places I’ve worked (or my friends/family have worked).

I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.

How could we reinsert the power of gratitude back into work?

This is tough because individuals pursue their, well, individual goals at work. Each case of a person is uniquely different. And then there’s this quote from the Fast Company article linked above:

Particularly important is sincerity, adds Emmons. “With something like gratitude in the workplace, we know that it works, but we also know you have to keep gratitude authentic,” he says. “If, for instance, a leader tries to offer gratitude for purely cynical or instrumental reasons, it’s unlikely to work.

See that word “authentic?” That means you can’t have some HR-owned roll-out of a “gratitude program.” That will seem forced and no one will really participate. So much for the power of gratitude in your workplace. Instead, here’s a basic list:

Two polar opposites around the power of gratitude

Here are some things that research has shown are positively affected by more gratitude-laden offices:

  • Turnover
  • Absentee workers
  • Burnout
  • Job satisfaction

Seems like a nice four-spot, eh Indeed. I’ve had jobs where I felt the power of gratitude from bosses and co-workers. You probably have too. You end up loving those jobs and only leave when you realize there is nowhere for you to go. On the flip side, we’ve all had gigs with absolutely no gratitude. Everyone is a heads-down, target-smashing dickbag looking out for №1. Most managers are deep in the circles of managerial hell. These jobs are awful — and you look for an exit ASAP.

I don’t understand why the two sides of management are so complicated for people to “get,” but I guess money clouds brains.

What else would you add on the power of gratitude at work?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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