With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s easy to think of reasons we’re grateful. I love this time of year for that reason. I’m a firm believer in the power of gratitude to transform both our personal and professional lives.
Sadly, I know this season will pass. Soon enough, we’ll be taking down our Christmas trees, breaking our New Year’s resolutions, and wandering aimlessly through the post-holiday fog. The office will be quiet. It just won’t be as easy to practice gratitude, but that’s exactly when we must.
According to UC Davis psychology professor and author Robert Emmons, gratitude is good for our minds, bodies, and relationships. Since we spend so much time at the office, it stands to reason that giving and receiving thanks at work becomes pretty important. And, don’t forget the science-backed benefits of gratitude—it increases productivity, job satisfaction, and physical and mental health.
Here at BGW, we try to practice gratitude year-round. Of course, we can always improve, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Here’s a quick look at what I’ve learned along our journey to a culture of gratitude.
1. Lead by example.
A culture of gratitude starts at the top. If leadership takes the time to recognize the modest acts that often go unnoticed, it encourages everyone else to do the same. People might feel uncomfortable calling out the sometimes seemingly insignificant things people do, but it’s good to do it anyway: The more you express gratitude, the more natural and almost subconscious it becomes.
2. Be specific.
Avoid blanket expressions of gratitude (“You guys are doing great, thanks.”). Instead, say thank you to someone specifically for something specific they did (“Thank you for the work you did on this project. We couldn’t have done it without you.”). It just means so much more to call out someone’s individual contribution.
3. Do it daily.
Gratitude needs to be authentic, and it can’t be if you’re standing up at the company meeting once a quarter and rattling off a scripted thank you. Your employees will see that as a half-hearted attempt, and it’s not going to mean much.
Instead, make gratitude a daily habit. Set a goal to thank someone for something specific each day. When you take the time to go out of your way to do so, people will know you are genuine, and you’ll see significant improvements to company morale.
4. Encourage teamwork and humility.
Teamwork is one of our core values because we recognize that success is never something that’s accomplished alone. It comes down to humility, and that is a trait we look for when recruiting and hiring. We want our employees to consistently recognize and thank those who play a part in their achievements.
5. Give back.
It’s important to express gratitude for the privileges we (you) enjoy as a company. That’s why we build community service into our working hours, participating in events together as a team (and also allowing employees time off to work on what matters individually to them). A working culture of gratitude helps people realize how truly fortunate they are and instills a desire to pay it forward.
6. Recognize the big and small.
I touched on this a bit earlier, but it’s worth another mention.
It’s easy to take note of the latest closed deals or other big accomplishments, but it’s equally important to recognize the employee who took on an extra project for a sick co-worker or the office manager who spent her weekend hand-cutting holiday decorations to put up early Monday morning before everyone arrived. Not every job in the office is going to bring in big revenue, but that doesn’t mean each person’s efforts can’t be recognized.
Be aware that gratitude for the smaller actions often needs to be encouraged at the team level. We ask our managers to constantly be aware of how they can recognize the behind-the-scenes actions that sometimes only they can see.
7. Have the conversation.
You have to start somewhere, and sometimes that means just having the conversation to highlight that a shift in culture is needed. To build a culture of gratitude, you first have to give it attention.
8. Make it easy to say thank you.
A culture of gratitude isn’t built in a day, but you can help it gain traction by making it easy for employees to express their thanks. They can be simple gestures like thank you cards (because a handwritten note means worlds more than emails) as well as cards for birthdays, weddings, and other life events. Demonstrating that you care about an employee’s personal life indicates your gratitude for them in the workplace.
Consider ways in which your employees can publicly call out co-workers’ demonstrations of hard work, teamwork, etc. This encourages employees to pay attention to what goes on around them as they look for specific actions to recognize.
And, at the larger level, an employee of the quarter program (or of the month/season/whatever you decide) can also work wonders. Have employees nominate individuals who they feel exhibit your core values and executives pick one person to receive the award. The award helps employees to take a moment to stop and reflect on who impacts them daily.
9. Know that recognition does not equal thanks.
It might seem obvious, but don’t just recognize someone for what they accomplished—actually express gratitude for all the work they put into it.
10. Take time to reflect.
Sometimes the key to being grateful is simply slowing down, hitting the pause button on the day-to-day grind that keeps you from seeing the big picture.
If you’re anything like me, when you stop running around long enough to think about how you got to where you are, you realize pretty quickly you’ve had a lot of help. Reflection helps “take the blinders off” of our busy lives.
So, while there’s still enough pumpkin spice to keep you in the spirit, resolve to get a jumpstart on your gratitude practice. That way, when the holiday hype fades, you can keep it going, one thank you at a time.