Gratitude In The Workplace:
It Matters More Than You Think
Gratitude can make all the difference
in your success and satisfaction at work.
Happily ever after isn’t just
the stuff of fairytales.
Come and get it.
It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in the US as I write this article. Most of us have taken some time to express thanks for the good things in our lives on this holiday. We’ve enjoyed feasts with family and friends in celebration of our closest relationships. We’ve been thankful for our health, our homes, and the many other blessings we enjoyed this year. Nearly every country has its own version of a Thanksgiving holiday, a day set aside specifically to express gratitude.
The trick for many of us? To feel gratitude not just on sanctioned holidays, but all year round. Harder still? To feel gratitude about our work. There’s great power in gratitude. So many of us just don’t take full advantage of it. I’m here to tell you it matters more than you think. The impact that gratitude can have in your life and in your work is enormous.
It’s easy to feel gratitude for the big and positive things in your life: your wedding, the birth of your child, or recovery from illness. The small things are less obvious, but you probably feel gratitude much more often than you even realize. You find your car keys, just in time, after misplacing them for hours. You almost drop a gallon of milk, but catch it at the last minute. You open a present from someone and it’s exactly what you wanted to receive. That immediate feeling you have is gratitude.
If you’re like most people, you want “happily ever after” in your personal life. You strive for it and revel in the moments when happiness lingers. When it comes to work, though, most people accept far less than happily ever after. It is work, after all. People tend to splash around a bit in strife and negativity at work; it’s human nature to bond with others in tragic or frustrating situations. The workplace creates opportunities for this type of bonding every day. It makes feeling gratitude at work very challenging. Consider these examples.
Maybe you don’t feel appreciated. You’re undervalued or underpaid. You’re taken advantage of or asked to do things that don’t make sense. You have to work more hours than you want, and maybe more hours than others. You see people get ahead, who, in your mind, don’t "deserve" it. Your boss may not be smart enough, or human enough, or fair enough. Your co-workers may not always carry their weight.
These types of feelings are completely natural… but in all cases, they play directly against your satisfaction and success at work. We’re certainly not in our happily ever after state of mind when we have these feelings. We’re about as far away from Thanksgiving gratitude as we can get.
Today, I’m here to tell you that finding and cultivating gratitude in the workplace increases not only your satisfaction, but also your success at work. Feeling and showing gratitude at work has real impact. Gratitude is your best and most direct path to happily ever after. With small adjustments in how you think and act at work, you can literally transform your life.
Don’t believe me? Read the five keys I share in this article and give them a try. See if these small adjustments don’t add up to big changes for you.
Why Gratitude Matters
Before we try to put gratitude into action, let’s look at the definition:
The state of being grateful – appreciative of benefits received. (Merriam-Webster)
Most of us are conditioned at an early age to appreciate the benefits we receive. It isn’t all lollipops and gum drops to learn. Adults hold something out to us and just as we reach for it, they pull it back until we say our proper “Thank you.” Only after we say the words are we handed the one thing we want more than anything else in the world in that moment. The next moment, we want something else and so the cycle continues - until we learn that saying “Thank you” gets us what we want. It becomes second nature over time. The concept: appreciate what you’re given and you’ll be given more. If only we could remember this simple concept as we get older and enter the workplace.
At this point, you may be wondering why gratitude matters in the workplace. I won’t keep you in suspense. Here’s why I think gratitude matters.
Gratitude changes who you are and how you respond to your environment.
When you demonstrate gratitude in the workplace, you're showing appreciation for something. Your state of mind and your energy both shift when you feel appreciation. It has to do with your brain chemistry and neurotransmitters. Hello, science. It’s not just a mental shift, but a physical one. Even appreciating how much you love something as small as your new wireless keyboard brightens up your mood. The more often you feel appreciation, the longer your shifts in brain chemistry and “feel-good” responses linger. It’s proven that gratitude significantly impacts happiness and a positive state of mind. This can be nothing but productive in the workplace.
Gratitude makes you more appealing as a co-worker.
When you demonstrate gratitude in the workplace, you show appreciation for what others have said, done, or given to you. People like being appreciated. Others will naturally feel a greater connection to you when you show appreciation for their efforts. It’s not voodoo. It’s proven behavioral science. Appreciating others fundamentally changes your relationship with them, and makes you more appealing as a co-worker by default.
Gratitude causes others to want to do more for you.
When you demonstrate gratitude in the workplace, you align others to you. People would much rather help or support someone who shows gratitude and appreciation in response. If you’re a person who shows gratitude, you garner a lot of support for your success. The relationships you establish by showing gratitude are invaluable to you over time.
Even if you only believe one of the three statements above (although I hope you believe all three), you can see how gratitude can positively impact your success in the workplace. So how do you put it in action?
Gratitude in Action
Here’s how to find your way to happily ever after at work through the practice of gratitude.
1. Start With The Money - Appreciate It Fully.
It’s pretty easy to get caught up in not having enough money. Other people make more than you do. You deserve more. You need more. Here’s the thing. At its most fundamental level, your job provides you with money that puts food on your table and clothes on your back. You’re hired to provide a service and you’re paid in return for your effort. If you can’t feel gratitude for the fact that you have a job and you're making money, you put yourself in a negative thought pattern. If you want to make more money, figure out how to do more, or do what you do now for another company. Put a plan in place to expand what you have. In all cases, though, feel grateful for the fact that you have a job and a paycheck. Negativity here traps you into feeling a sense of lack. Think of your abundance instead and see how quickly more abundance will follow. It may sound silly, but it absolutely works. Besides, you'll feel better immediately.
2. Recognize The Good – See What Doesn’t Stink.
It’s very common for us to focus on what’s wrong in any situation. Work hard to break this habit. Stop and look around. Be perceptive of what’s good. In almost every situation there's far more good than there is bad. Nurture the good by recognizing what doesn’t stink. I’ve said it before: if you think of three things that are good in any given circumstance or given day, you'll improve your perspective and mood immediately. When you recognize the good, it doesn’t make the bad go away. It just makes the bad matter less in the grander scheme of things.
3. Speak First A Positive - Then A Complaint.
We all want to complain on occasion. (Some of us more than others!) Let yourself complain when you need to get something off of your chest. Just set this guideline for yourself: before you can complain about something, you have to say something nice. More than half of the time, I guarantee you won’t even get to the complaint. That’s especially true if you make this a game with co-workers and ask them to do the same. You’ll find yourself grasping at straws for something positive to say in a frustrating moment, and it'll make you laugh. “I love the eraser on this pencil.” Sometimes that’s all you’ve got.
Most of our complaints are "nothing but a peanut" in the scope of our lives. Forcing ourselves to pause the complaint for that moment, to say something positive, makes us realize how unimportant the complaint is in most cases. The shift to temporary gratitude, even when forced, causes our brain chemistry to change ever so slightly. If we go ahead with our complaint, it’s usually with less emotion and more productive thought. So go ahead and let loose, but with a balanced view.
4. Be Present – Especially When It Matters.
We all multi-task at work. We have conversations while only half listening to what’s being said. We get interrupted at our desk, and try to continue doing two or three things at once. We check email while we’re on the phone, or think about our next project while others are talking to us. Often, we don’t even look another person in the eye or respond to something that’s been said because we’re so busy thinking other thoughts in our minds. We sit in meetings looking at our smart phones, barely listening enough to pretend we’re present and active in the discussion.
All of these things create a disconnection between us and our work. There are respect issues at play as well, but that’s a topic for another day. To feel and show gratitude at work, give each thing you’re doing and each person you’re interacting with your full attention. Stop and engage your mind in each moment. You’ll feel much more connected, and as a result, you’ll feel more successful in ways both big and small. You’re also more likely to be positively perceived by others, which fuels your success and satisfaction over time. Commit to do this for one full day. Force yourself to engage fully in every activity to get the hang of it. It’s not easy, but it pays huge dividends in your connection to your work and your satisfaction in your job. You won’t be able to do it all of the time, but do it as often as you can and certainly do it when it really matters. (Tip: You may want to try this at home too!)
5. Say Thank You - And Mean It.
We’re taught as children to say thank you often. A lot of the time, we don't really even mean it. We do it because we "should." When you thank someone and you really mean it, you’re earning points without even knowing it. Genuine and authentic appreciation, expressed to another person, builds good will. It makes you feel better and it makes them feel better. It doesn’t even matter if the other person acknowledges your appreciation. It matters that you give it.
You may think that when others are just doing their jobs, you shouldn’t have to thank them. Think about how you feel when you’re "just doing your job" and others express appreciation. Especially when they express authentic and heart-felt appreciation. You feel acknowledged. You feel like you matter. You’re more likely to want to do something for the person again. Try to remember that feeling. Pass along appreciation to others. It creates what’s called a “sea change” for you. When you genuinely appreciate what others do and you tell them, it creates positivity in your interactions. You earn good will. Often, gratitude is paid forward as well. It spreads to others and it comes back to you. You’ll absolutely feel the difference when you develop this habit.
A lot of people cringe at the thought of discussing gratitude in the workplace. Without a doubt, these conversations can be filled with references to karma and other quantum concepts that make people nervous. I personally love those concepts as part of the mix, but today’s article isn’t about challenging your thinking in that way. It’s about finding a new way to be successful in the workplace and feel satisfied in your work. Feeling and demonstrating gratitude in the workplace has a significantly positive impact in both cases.
You can't be truly happy in your life if you’re not happy in your work. And you can't be happy in your work if you don’t feel grateful for it. It really is that simple. Gratitude matters more than you think. Happily ever after exists outside of fairytales. The only way to get there, in my opinion, is to appreciate what you have while you look and work toward more.
Gratitude comes easier to some people than others. I’ve had fascinating experiences with appreciation. I’ve been generous of my time or effort without even slight recognition by another person. On the flip side, I’ve been thanked for small and random acts of kindness in the workplace that didn’t particularly warrant recognition at all. Guess who I'm compelled to help moving forward? You got it. The person who shows appreciation.
People who are grateful are like magnets; they exude positivity and draw it back toward themselves. When it comes to gratitude in the workplace, authenticity is king. You have to think a bit like Goldilocks. You don’t want to show too much, such that it clearly isn’t genuine. You also don’t want to show too little, so you appear to lack gratitude. You want to get it just right. You do that by cultivating a very real sense of gratitude for yourself at work.
Gratitude in the workplace starts with being thankful for your job, first and foremost. Strive for more, by all means, but be appreciative for where you’ve been and what you have. It’s not about being satisfied or complacent; striving for more is a very natural state. Just appreciate where you are today, while still looking forward. See the good in your workplace and acknowledge things that are positive and productive and help you enjoy your job. When you’re tempted to complain, balance the good with the bad. For every complaint, identify something positive too. That balance helps you keep perspective and feel more appreciative overall.
Be present at work, in conversations and activities rather than looking back or looking forward. Give projects and people your full attention; it makes your work so much more rewarding. Others appreciate receiving your full attention. If nothing else, do it because it shows respect, which garners good will in return.
Finally, when you feel appreciation, express your gratitude and say thank you. Show others that you recognize their effort. Thank people for their kindness or consideration or time. Put yourself in another’s situation and use the golden rule – treat them as you’d want to be treated. Everyone wants to be appreciated for their work, particularly if they do something beyond the basic requirements of the job. Show gratitude to others and it will come back to you. As I’ve said before, you teach people how to treat you by demonstrating positive behavior yourself.
Want to be successful and satisfied at work? Want to find your way to happily ever after? Practice gratitude at work. It's not easy. You have to work at it. I know, because it's true for me too. But I'll tell you this from personal experience. Gratitude in the workplace is amazingly powerful and the benefits will spill over into every area of your life. Try it. I think you’ll like it.