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How To Cultivate Gratitude In The Workplace

by Anita Fontana

Win-win, win-lose, or lose-lose? Which best describes the setup in your office? In the end, it all depends on your mindset, and the choice is yours!

"In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions." – Margaret Wheatley

How much appreciation do you experience every day at work? Do you walk into an atmosphere each morning that's filled with gratitude and appreciation?

The Depreciation Mindset

Unfortunately, when I ask my audiences that question, I am often met with rolled eyes, "hmphs", and disgusted snickers. This tells me that the depreciation mindset is alive and well in the workplace today.

This mindset weakens people, makes them feel less efficient, less effective and less valuable to their company. It undermines their morale, steals the joy from their work and destroys teamwork. It creates anxiety and discouragement and breeds an environment of blame, gossip, complaining and negative thinking.

One criticism leads to another until after a while no one can see any good in the company, the boss, or their co-workers. They see only the things that are going wrong. When people feel unappreciated it wears them down, they become bored, their hearts are no longer in their work.

I recently met a woman who worked for a large government agency and had just completed a grueling, two-year project. Soon after she turned in the work, her supervisor called her into his office and gave her a $1,500 bonus! Not bad. Most of us would take the money and run and never look back.

Not this woman. She told him in no uncertain terms that she did not want the money!

Needless to say, everyone within earshot was shocked to hear the news. They all thought she must be crazy to turn down such a generous bonus after working so long and hard.

But she wanted to make a point. She told her boss that she didn't want him to throw money at her. She wanted him to thank her publicly, to show his appreciation for her dedication, energy and all the nights and weekends she had sacrificed. She wanted acknowledgement for her excellent work in a way that everyone in the office would know and hear.

She demanded a public thank you; how he decided to accomplish that was up to him. She made it clear that she was tired of the lack of acknowledgment for her work and that it was about time things changed!

"The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." – William James

Now, you may not be willing to turn down a generous bonus just to make a point! But because of the lack of appreciation prevalent in the workplace today, it's easy to fall into the trap of complaining about the annoying co-worker, the demanding boss, the department that just can't get its act together, without realizing that each grumble and complaint is like coughing in the faces of your co-workers or spreading germs around the office.

According to Dale Dauten's column in the Chicago Tribune, some of the dissatisfaction employees feel is because:

  • Office praise is a "black hole"—it comes in, but it never goes out.
  • Kindness is treated as if it were a scary virus: "If I did it for you, I'd have to do it for everyone!"
  • Offers of rewards are distant and vague: "No promises, but something good is coming."

Dauten goes on to say: "This is what we all want: Assume the best about us and give us some appreciation."

When I ask people in my seminars what would make them feel appreciated at work, I'm told: "A simple 'thank you' would be nice" and "Don't always focus on what I did wrong; acknowledge what I did right in front of others."

Gratitude Changes Your Mindset

Think about it from a financial standpoint: a house or an investment is always either appreciating or depreciating in value. In other words,it's either increasing or decreasing in value. The same is true for your state of mind.

When you're in the mindset of appreciation, your life is increasing in value. When you're in the mindset of depreciation, your life is decreasing in value.

At any given moment, each one of us has complete control over enriching the quality of our lives. All we have to do is raise our level of appreciation. The moment we do, we open ourselves up to a richer, more bountiful life.

Yet, true gratitude is not just saying a perfunctory "thank you" when someone holds a door for you or gives you a gift.

It's a meaningful gesture backed by sincerity of purpose that involves feelings. Gratitude is appreciation for the little things, an emotion that opens us up to seeing life in a more positive light, which produces feelings of excitement and joy. It makes the workplace more meaningful. And when people find meaning in their work, they generally find motivation to perpetuate that sense of meaningfulness.

The Appreciation Mindset

Now imagine how different your workday would be if all your co-workers expressed genuine appreciation for each other. In one of my seminars, a woman told me: "Appreciation for each other would be like a daily party." What would happen if YOU cultivated an Attitude of Gratitude at work? How would you go about doing this?

With the power of gratitude and appreciation at your disposal, you can transform a negative atmosphere into a new spirit of appreciation in your office, empowering people, bringing enthusiasm and satisfaction back into their work and building strong bonds between employees.

Fostering appreciation in the workplace begins with you. You can make the difference at your office. But in order to feel appreciated, you must begin by appreciating, you can't wait for others to change.

It doesn't matter what your boss is doing or what your co-workers are doing. You can take the responsibility for carrying the spirit of appreciation each day to your office, letting the power of gratitude revitalize your workplace.

Appreciation poured into your company, your work, your customers and your co-workers is like water and food to flowers; it helps everything blossom and grow. Things become fresh and alive again. Today, as always, people are craving to be appreciated!

At this very moment, think of all the people who have made a difference in your life; the people who constantly do the "small things" that add up to "big things".

Maybe it's a vendor who provides excellent service, or whose work is of superior quality, or someone who does their job so well that it makes your job easier. Perhaps it's a person who has been particularly kind to you, who has always there when you need them. Or maybe it's someone with a great sense of humor who brightens your day just by seeing them in the hallway.

"Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone." – G.B. Stern

Make a point of acknowledging these people for who they are and what they do; let them know they're valued and appreciated and that they and their work are important. True gratitude needs to be personal and genuine. It's not just saying thank you, but how you show it that m makes all the difference.

6 Easy Ways To Say "Thank You"

1. Send a "thank you" e-mail or e-greeting card. Our mailboxes are flooded daily with email telling us all the things we didn't do, all the things we did wrong, or all the things we should be doing! Think how refreshing it would be for a co-worker to open their email and find a note of gratitude.

2. Send a virtual box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers. They cost nothing and are calorie free!

3. Take someone out for coffee or lunch "just because..."

4. Leave a sticky note. Imagine how great someone would feel coming back from lunch, a boring meeting or the restroom to find a note of thanks stuck on their monitor or to their desk!

5. Send a handwritten card or note. Everywhere I go people complain that all they ever get is junk mail and bills. Believe it or not, people long for a handwritten card or note in your handwriting, in an envelope, with a stamp on it! So keep a box of thank-you cards in your desk drawer and use them.

6. Leave a "thank you" voicemail message. Most of us are inundated with voicemail messages that we'd like to delete two seconds after they start! You can make someone's day by leaving a message thanking them for who they are or the great work they do.

Perhaps you can even adopt a personal strategy. For example, give one verbal appreciation every hour and send one written thank you every day.

These are just some of the ways to show your gratitude around the office. I'm sure you can come up with others. You never know when your words of appreciation will make a person's day. It takes so little effort and yet it makes you feel good knowing that you've brightened someone's outlook with something so simple. Try it for a month at your own job; see what happens.

They tried it at Motorola in Chicago. The first time I went there to speak, about 25–30 skeptical-looking people walked into the room, sat down and stared at me with that "show me" look on their faces.

I gave my presentation and, afterward, everyone got up and left without saying a word! I was convinced I hadn't touched anyone and that I had wasted their time and mine.

But 6 months later, when I was asked to speak again, 160 enthusiastic people packed the room! The word had gotten around: this gratitude thing works and they wanted to know more!

We all had a great time and, afterward, people stood in line waiting to tell me stories of gratitude moments they had witnessed at work and asking advice about using gratitude in challenging situations and with difficult people. And the reports are still coming in about the positive effect gratitude is having on Motorola employees.

So give it a try where you work. You certainly have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Living an Attitude of Gratitude not only makes you feel better,it makes everyone around you feel better. You can create a win-win situation in your office. And who can argue with that?


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