Leading with Gratitude

2020 has been an incredibly difficult year. Workers face an incredible amount of stress and uncertainty in the face of a global pandemic and political and civil unrest. In fact, one survey revealed that 69% of workers say the coronavirus pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career. The same study found that 62% of workers report losing at least one hour of productivity a day due to pandemic-related stress and 32% losing more than two hours per day. These levels of stress and lost productivity could potentially cost employers billions. 

What can leaders do now to help themselves and their teams manage stress and improve performance at this difficult time? One simple way to decrease stress and improve productivity is to cultivate a culture of gratitude. There are several scientifically proven benefits of practicing gratitude, including improved physical and psychological health, increased resilience and productivity, higher levels of empathy and social connection, and better decision-making and ability to achieve goals. 

How can you practice gratitude to improve your ability to manage stress and improve performance? 

1. Take a Moment to Reflect. If you find yourself in a state of worry or feeling overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths and reflect on things you are grateful for. It can be helpful to write down the answers or say them out loud to ground yourself. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What did I see today that was beautiful? 
  • What have I learned recently that helped me to grow as a person?
  • What are three things I’m grateful for right now?

2. Start a Gratitude Journal. Carve out a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to write down one thing you are grateful for and why it is meaningful to you. Book-ending your day with positive thoughts and feelings can decrease stress and increase your sense of well-being. 

3. Write a Thank-you Note. Taking the time to write a thank you note to someone not only re-inforces your sense of gratitude, but it also creates a connection with the person you are taking the time to appreciate.

How can leaders create a culture of gratitude in the workplace? 

1. Check-in with Your Team and Tell them Thank You – Ask your people how they are doing, and listen to their answers. Don’t let them leave with just a reflexive response like “good.” Ask follow-up questions to get a better idea about their mental health. Make sure they know you appreciate them, and make a point to thank them for something specific they have accomplished recently. A series of experiments conducted by psychologists found that getting a thank you from a supervisor or higher-ranking manager gave people a strong sense of self-worth and self-efficacy. The same study showed that these expressions of gratitude create an environment where teams trust each other and are more likely to help each other out. 

2. Create an Appreciation Board – Encourage a culture of gratitude by making a central board where teams can recognize each other and show appreciation. This can be a bulletin board in a physical workplace, or a group chat or shared document for remote teams. Encourage individuals to post a thank you note or shout-out for their team members when they do something great or help out in some way. 

3. Start Meetings with Gratitude. Instead of diving right into the agenda, take time at the beginning of regular meetings to ask everyone to say one thing they are grateful for. Just expressing gratitude lowers blood pressure and releases dopamine and oxytocin. This biological response helps people bond as a team and reduces stress, allowing for more creativity and better decision-making. 

Traditionally the holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on what we have accomplished and the many things we have to be grateful for, so there is no better time to start cultivating gratitude on your team and reap the benefits in the new year to come!