Nine ways to reboot employee motivation with the power of gratitude

In our ‘give and take’ economy, gratitude is often the ‘give’ we tend to miss, but it must follow every ‘take’ to make our transactions fair, meaningful and magical. Gratitude involves two actions: First, realising that a ‘thank you’ is owed; and second, figuring out who the recipient is (it’s not always obvious).

Nine ways to reboot employee motivation with the power of gratitude

Why does gratitude work? It revives the channels of synergy and positivity that get clogged up over the course of our hectic lifestyles and toxic cultures. There’s the biology angle too: being grateful causes our brain to release Serotonin and Dopamine, which stabilises our wellbeing and generates ‘feel good’ effects respectively.

The power of gratitude is also backed by solid evidence. Respect driven cultures have traditionally shown themselves to be more motivational and stimulating, creating a ripple effect of appreciation. Indeed, research by Oxford University's Saïd Business School, in collaboration with multinational telecoms firm BT in 2019, found that happy employees (happiness is a proven by-product of gratitude) are 13% more productive. While Glassdoor’s Employee Appreciation Survey (2013) revealed that 81% of employees were motivated to work harder when the boss expressed appreciation.

And finally, there’s the big irony: A 2013 survey of 2,000 people on gratitude, commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation in the US, revealed that while 99% of people agree about the importance of gratitude and appreciation at work, in reality, only about 10% practise it on a daily basis.

So how do you go about creating a workplace culture built on gratitude? Here are nine ways to reboot employee motivation with the power of gratitude:

1. Before you can express gratitude, you need a reason to do so. So build an enabling workplace with free flowing communication channels, mentoring opportunities and gamification to build more avenues for everyone to create a gratitude-worthy (so to speak) impact.

2. That said, it is equally important to realise that not all ‘gratitude-worthy’ achievements will be milestones warranting their own headline. Sometimes, acknowledging the very existence of a peer in another department can go a long way to build good energy. Find the little things and make them big. A thank you note that’s meant from the heart, a ‘personalised’ gift or just a ‘good old fashioned catch-up’ over coffee can work wonders.  

3. Gratitude should be given wholeheartedly and unreservedly, and shouldn’t come with strings and disclaimers attached. That is, you cannot express a genuinely heartfelt ‘Truly appreciate it’ and, at the same time, be bitter about something the recipient did (or didn’t do) to you, or expect something in return for your gesture. Gratitude is a free flowing and all-encompassing force that is blind to any other ‘flaw’ in the recipient, leaving only a lingering, warm feeling.  

4. Do not discriminate. If you have expressed your gratefulness to the sales team for having ticked a box, apply the same yardstick with your delivery fleets, drivers and freelancer force, for instance. Favouritism is easily detected and detested, and a sure way to undo all the good work you have done up until that point.

5. Gratitude isn’t part of the workplace framework – it is the framework. This means it cannot be restricted to isolated incidents. In the words of Ryan Fehr, assistant professor of management at the University of Washington, Seattle, giving gratitude should be a consistent habit practised along every point of the workflow. Make sure, however, that you don’t force or manipulate your employees into being grateful. That goes against the grain of the very emotion or idea. So while you can certainly consider having a Gratefulness Policy at the HR level, make sure its adoption is gradual and natural.

6. Customise gratitude. This is obvious and flows from the above point. Don’t have rigid protocols and ‘methods’ in place for expressing gratitude. Let people choose and pick their own ways to show theirs. Gratitude isn’t one-size-fit-all, it needs to: use your own language to express it best, fit with the gravity and significance of the occasion, and match the feeling and personality of the recipient.

7. Evangelise gratitude whenever you can. Make sure management drives it ‘top down’ at every given opportunity – the former CEO of Campbell Soup is famous for having written 30,000 thank you notes to his employees.

8. Make sure your most passionate employees and brand ambassadors bring it up in their interactions and conversations – both offline and online. Carry out interesting campaigns and fun activations in the workplace around it. Turn it into a ‘thing’.

9. Stay patient. In his famous agricultural analogy, G.K. Chesterton argued that the effects of gratitude, much like true happiness, take time to ‘blossom’ after one has planted its seeds. One needs to follow the practise doggedly over the years before it can work its true magic. 

Simple acts like maintaining a gratitude document, sharing surprise hugs and bravos, and recognising everyday acts (be it privately or in public) go a long way to seed a consciousness of gratitude in the workplace.

This article is provided by Xoxoday.

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