The days and weeks fly by and it takes all you've got to stay afloat in a sea of responsibilities. Deadlines, meetings, presentations, bills, social obligations, soccer practices-- how often do you pause to take a breath and truly appreciate the blessings in your life, or the people around you? Research suggests that a correlation exists between gratitude and our happiness. Studies have found that, when expressed either verbally or through written word, displays of gratitude boost happiness levels in us and encourage “pro-social” behavior (the kind that triggers empathy and is strongly linked to sharing, donating, and volunteering).
The Science of Happiness
We're conditioned to wear a mask from 9 to 5, to be professional, stoic, and determined. Don't cry at work, don't overreact to situations, don't show weakness or instability. But, maybe we're sending the wrong message to employees. Encouraging free expression of joy in the workplace can do wonders to liberate your employees, and also affect your bottom line. Simply put, happy employees work harder. A study published by the Social Market Foundation found that happy employees are upwards of 20% more productive than their unhappy counterparts.
And the impact of happiness and gratitude reaches beyond productivity. Studies have shown that grateful employees tend to be more socially responsible. Translated into the workplace, this might mean an employee is more willing to engage in "organizational citizenship" behaviors, such as welcoming new hires, going above and beyond their prescribed job duties, and making extraordinary efforts to help with the initiatives of others.
Amit Amin of HappierHuman compiled 26 academic articles and studies from researchers across the globe that prove the benefits of saying “thank you.” Below are some interesting highlights from his research.
- Expressions of gratitude reinforce pro-social and moral behavior.
- Those who are more grateful not only perceive the environment to be more benevolent, but actually make it so by helping others more frequently and accumulating social capital.
- A one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produces an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms that lasts for months.
- Frequent opportunity to express gratitude leads to increased well-being, better health, better exercise habits, higher life satisfaction and increased optimism.
It starts with the leadership team
Cultural shifts in the workplace often happen at the top first. If leadership recognizes the importance of celebrating successes or acts of kindness, both on a small and large scale, employees will feel comfortable to follow suit. Many companies have long embraced a mindset of appreciation. The Campbell Soup Company's former CEO, Douglas Conant, penned 30,000 thank you notes to his individual employees during his time in leadership.
Of course, getting started can be rocky. Employees may view leadership's initial efforts as forced, insincere, or short-lived. That's why it's imperative to consider this a long-term effort, with no measurable end date. What you can measure, however, is the feedback you receive through conducting an employee engagement survey. Using this strategy year-over-year or quarter-over-quarter will help you understand how your efforts to encourage a culture of gratitude is impacting employee engagement and employee satisfaction.
Create outlets for recognition
In a world of hierarchy, promotions and wanting to be the "chosen one" to be noticed and promoted, we may feel reluctant to admit that we rely heavily on each other at work, or to point out someone else's strengths. However, doing so will likely build your reputation as a team builder and leader rather than someone who is self-serving.
To encourage a culture of gratitude in your company, establish recognition programs for employees to nominate each other's acts of kindness or exceptional work. Create a "wall of gratitude" for employees to hand-write genuine praise of coworkers. Or, create a dedicated Slack channel for kudos and shout-outs.
Weave gratitude into your corporate culture
Give credit when you experience "wins." For example, make it a common practice for a salesperson who has just closed a sizable deal to list in his announcement the individuals who helped him throughout the process. Or, in executive team meetings, have VP's list outstanding team members by name who contributed to a project when reporting on departmental metrics and successes.
Remember, there's no prescribed formula for gratitude
Don't assume that each of your employees responds to gratitude in the same manner. Much like styles in Chapman's, The Five Love Languages, dictate whether you'd rather receive a Rolex or a love poem, employees prefer to be shown gratitude in different forms. Try out different methods of expressing thanks, and allow management to customize plans for their teams. While one employee may enjoy to be recognized in front of the entire company with a standing ovation, the very same gesture would send another cowering into the bathroom stall.
Imagine the effects that could come from creating a culture where employees not only feel appreciated, but are also encouraged to share their gratitude with others. Having happier employees means a more productive workplace, which is better for the well-being of your company-- and its bottom line.