Charles Schwab said, “The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.” Oprah Winfrey said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” The empirical evidence also shows that gratitude has significant health and wellness benefits for us all, will motivate employees to do their best, and improve your organization’s productivity.
Consider the following:
- Gratitude improves psychological and physical health. Several studies on physical health have found a strong link between gratitude and physical health, basically because gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces multiple toxic emotions ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Better mental health means that people are more likely to engage in health-promoting activities and to seek medical help when it is needed. Not surprisingly, this keeps people in better mental and physical condition than if they engage in self-destructive behaviors and avoid necessary medical care.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a pro-social manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. According to an article in Forbes, study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
- Gratitude helps people sleep better. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being and cited in a Forbes article found that people who write a few grateful sentiments before bed slept better and longer.
- Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, which is an essential component of optimal performance.
- Gratitude increases mental strength. According to an article in Forbes, long-standing research has shown gratitude reduces stress, and may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.
Time magazine has reported that among those who are more spiritual, religious thankfulness, or gratitude toward God, can reduce the risk of mental illness. In a 2003 study involving 2600 adults, those who were most spiritually thankful had a lower risk of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, bulimia, and addictions, including alcohol, nicotine and illegal drugs.
In the workplace, gratitude often takes the form of recognition from managers and team members, and when done well, it can improve performance. Many studies suggest that positive to negative feedback should be at a 5 to 1 ratio to achieve a more confident and high-performing work team. But unfortunately, many employees don’t receive that kind of support. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association[i] found that, “Only about half of the U.S. workforce (51%) say they feel valued by their employer, more than a third (36%) haven’t received any form of recognition in the last year, and just 47% say recognition is provided fairly.”
Yet recognition is often the leading action managers can take to cause employees to produce great work. A whitepaper commissioned by Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For and Great Place to Work-Certified company, O.C. Tanner, investigated the root cause of great employee performance and how managers can tailor their workplaces to promote it. When asked, “What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?” The leading response by nearly a factor of three was more personal recognition, over other drivers such as “pay me more” or “give me autonomy.”
Giving immediate recognition and feedback is easy to do!
I recommend these simple steps from Situational Leadership[ii]:
- Smile and look the employee straight in the eye.
- Thank him or her for their excellent work.
- Be specific about what was important about their accomplishment and its positive impact on the organization.
- Capture the moment by telling them how it makes you feel, such as, “I am glad you are a member of our team,” or “You are making a significant impact here.”
- Shake their hand.
During Thanksgiving this week, I encourage a round of gratitude by those assembled at your table. And for those who don’t practice gratitude regularly to consider starting a nightly gratitude list. When you return to work after the holiday, never miss an opportunity to express gratitude and provide positive feedback.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and Managing Partner of InnovationOne. His new book is Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. It has received great reviews and five-star ratings on Amazon. You can buy it online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing.
[i] “Employee Recognition Survey. (August 2014). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apaexcellence.org/assets/general/employee-recogntion-survey-results.pdf.
[ii] Paul Hersey. (1985). The Situational Leader. New York, NY: Warner Books.