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Get Addicted to Gratitude in 2021

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member China Gorman, who writes and thinks about the challenges of building cultures of strong employee engagement for top performance and innovation. China was formerly CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, and COO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Do you remember your first job? Do you remember the first time your first boss said “thank you” or “nice work” or ‘good job”? Do you remember how that made you feel? How long has it been since your current boss or a co-worker noticed what you did and said thank you? If you’re like most of us, it’s been a long time. And that’s too bad. Particularly within the current negative and challenging pandemic environment.

The truth is, whether you’re at work or somewhere else, it’s hard to be angry, fearful, or upset when you’re being grateful. When I was a kid and acting out in particularly unbecoming ways – which I did with some regularity what with being a redhead and the oldest child – my mom or dad would sit me down for an hour and make me write a list of the things for which I was grateful. An hour. A long list.

Of course, as a youngster I would start with dumb stuff like the sky, the sun, the neighborhood swimming pool. But I exhausted those pretty quickly. And because I had to keep writing (for an hour!) I would start to really think about what I was grateful for. And moved into more meaningful things like my family. My brother and sister. The fun times we had with our cousins. My amazing grandparents. And before I knew it, my head and my heart were filled with gratitude and I forgot about whatever it had been that had made me act out.

I use this as an adult, a leader, and a colleague all the time. When I’m challenged with a situation or behavior not to my liking, I take a deep breath and look for the things related to the situation that I can be grateful for. It defuses my negative emotions and plugs into my positive side. And, what do you know?! I can usually pretty easily work my way through whatever the situation is.

How about in organizational life, though? Well, there’s a whole recognition industry providing tech solutions that make recognizing employee impact and longevity easy. And these are great. You should definitely have formal programs that call out high impact contributions from employees. No question.

But what’s more powerful than a boss coming up to you and saying, “I see what you are doing and it’s amazing. Thank you for your contributions to our success!”? A personal thank you – not a pre-programmed tech thank you. In the moment. Sincere. Heartfelt. Human. There may be nothing more powerful in an organization than sincere gratitude.

Here’s my challenge to you – whether you’re an executive leader, a middle level manager, an individual contributor, or someone just starting their first job: show gratitude every single day. In this first month of the new year, find someone doing something great just once a day and say thank you. In February, find two someones doing something great each day and say thank. And, starting in March, find three someones doing something great each and say thank you. By then, gratitude will be a habit and that’s a good thing. You won’t be able to stop.

If you’re in a large organization, this might be easier than if you’re in a small organization. But do it anyway. And if you can’t find examples at work, then find them elsewhere. (But of course, that will happen anyway - gratitude is like that.)

Here’s the thing: when you see the impact of your gratitude on the faces of those you thank, it will empower you to be more and more grateful. Living a life in which you’re focused on recognizing the impact of others rather than your own will become addictive. You’ll become a force for good that will be valued and emulated. Imagine the power of an organization full of people who are constantly lifting each other up by expressing thanks?

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