Gratitude isn’t something all of us talk about often in our workplace. We're busy building and running our companies, and it can be easy to forget to appreciate the people around us. This might seem like an innocent oversight -- on the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much of a correlation between gratitude and business success.
Yet science tells a different story.
Without gratitude, our teams might literally and figuratively fall apart. A recent study by the University of Montana confirmed that “grateful experiences and expressions” produce a positive impact on our psychological and physical well-being. Gratitude can even affect how well we sleep. According to a study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, people surveyed who said they'd expressed gratitude more frequently than average slept better and longer than those who expressed it less often.
This makes sense. After all, it’s easy to see how a company’s culture might diminish over time due to an absence of gratitude. Employees might grow dissatisfied and feel unmotivated, and innovation might grind to a halt. Job stress and turnover might become real concerns, and if these problems became epidemic, companies might well have problems bouncing back.
I’ve seen this happen firsthand. Before launching Confirm Biosciences, I worked for a fast-paced startup where everything was about hitting sales goals and making the board happy. Gratitude was the furthest thing from people’s minds; employee recognition was seen as a waste of time. Believe it or not, even with such an emphasis on hitting goals and driving revenue, that company went out of business.
I promised myself back then that I would never let numbers or financial goals get in the way of gratitude, and I urge you to make the same promise to yourself.
The business of gratitude
Gratitude is more than just a simple “thanks” or “job well done.” According to Globoforce, a mere 4 percent of workers find these generic, nonspecific expressions of recognition memorable. So, when I speak of gratitude, I mean thoughtful, meaningful and personalized acknowledgements. Your words and actions must show the recipient you truly recognize and appreciate his or her specific contributions.
I’d even argue that gratitude must become a cultural priority for your company. Why? Because according to the Harvard Business Review, positive cultures foster productive workplaces. Appreciation is contagious, but in order to start this chain reaction of positivity and productivity, you -- as the leader -- need to be the role model. A culture of gratitude must begin at the top. Once your team members see you embody gratitude to your core, they will follow suit.
All told, a team that expresses and experiences gratitude doesn’t just feel more motivated at work; it feels more appreciation for life. Sure, employees work harder and go above and beyond to innovate, but they also gain a greater sense of self-worth and self-efficacy.
So how do you get the gratitude ball rolling? The following steps are a good place to start:
1. Practice makes perfect.
Habits -- both good and bad -- take time to form. According to scientific research, it could take more than two months to cement a new behavior into your brain.
Gratitude is no exception to this rule. While it might feel unnatural to schedule a “gratitude reminder” in your calendar, doing so will help make it a natural part of your daily routine.
Then, to make it a natural part of your team’s day, consider creating gratitude-focused activities and benefits at your business. At our company, we have something called a “gratitude box.” Employees are encouraged to write and submit notes of gratitude about one other, and the team member with the most acknowledgements each month becomes employee of the month, a title that comes with a gift card to a store or restaurant the recipient personally enjoys.
2. Make it a team effort.
There’s an ongoing disconnect in the employee-recognition realm. According to a Bersin & Associates study, only 58 percent of employees surveyed said their employers have recognition programs, even though three out of four companies surveyed said otherwise. What’s more, just 17 percent of participants felt that their employers supported recognition.
Why is this happening? Gratitude, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. If you have a culturally diverse team, you can be sure your employees all have different definitions of the words “appreciation” and “recognition.” So ask your employees how they wish to be thanked and what it means to be appreciated. This will ensure that your gratitude resonates in relevant ways for everyone.
Next, consider following Zappos’' lead by instilling peer-to-peer recognition programs that encourage your employees to express gratitude toward each other in creative ways. At the end of the day, you want meaningful displays of appreciation to flow throughout your company from a variety of sources.
3. Focus on quality over quantity.
According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, a whopping 82 percent of American employees surveyed said they didn't feel recognized by leadership for their contributions at work. This alone should make you want to take a lap around the office to show some gratitude to your staff.
But before you head out, don’t forget that quality always trumps quantity. One thoughtful gesture of gratitude is infinitely more powerful than 1,000 generic expressions of “thanks.”
Just saying “great job” does not mean much if you fail to give a reason why. Be specific. Cite examples of how each team member is directly helping the company thrive. Show your employees that you see the connection between their contributions and your bottom line.
As humans, we have so much to be grateful for -- and in our personal lives, these feelings come quite naturally to us. In the workplace, however, they can easily get lost in the day-to-day hustle of entrepreneurship.
So, make room for gratitude on your to-do list, and turn it into a cultural priority. Your employees will appreciate it and will work harder because of it. Ultimately, your business will be better off.