This Valentine’s Day show your team some love. Here’s why and how

Did you know that people are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else? 

In fact, a 2013 study by the John Templeton Foundation found that only 10% of people expressed gratitude to their colleagues on a daily basis, and a huge 60 percent of people never show thanks in the workplace at all!

While it can sometimes be hard to see the value of a pat on the back – particularly in response to work someone is paid to do – the truth is that staff not shown gratitude are often less satisfied, less engaged and more likely to move on.

That’s because gratitude is a basic human requirement, according to leading gratitude researcher Professor Robert Emmons – which means it’s critical to both retaining great staff and the success of your organisation as a whole.

This Valentine’s Day, here’s some practical tips for how you can show your staff some love – not just today, but all year round.

Why gratitude matters

For something that seems so simple, gratitude is surprisingly underutilised in workplaces – even in the not-for-profit sector.

But it shouldn’t be, particularly when you consider its wide-ranging benefits:

  • It boosts self-esteem and increases productivity. It’s a simple equation: making your staff feel appreciated delivers better results. 

In fact, a University of Pennsylvania experiment found that managers who showed gratitude to their team of fundraisers were able to motivate them to make 50 percent more successful calls.

  • It fosters better relationships. Staff will feel more emotionally connected to people who show emotional responses. That means teams work together better, leading to improved outcomes for clients.
  • It builds engagement and loyalty. A study by ‘employee appreciation’ company O.C. Tanner shows that staff who don’t feel valued are 79 percent more likely to resign.
  • It leads to mentally healthy workplaces. Gratitude makes people more resilient and better able to deal with stress – andhealthy workplaces are overall more likely to perform better than those that are not.
  • It motivates better than money. In fact one study found that 80 percent of people are willing to work harder for a manager that shows regular appreciation.

So how should you get started on the journey to more regular gratitude? Here are four steps you can take today:

1. Be specific

People want to be acknowledged for the work they do. They want their managers to notice their achievements – to really understand and appreciate how their work has contributed to the bigger picture.

In fact, countless scientific studies identify well-delivered acknowledgement, praise and gratitude from managers as the single most effective motivator for staff around the world – surprisingly, even more than salary or other perks.

So instead of throwing out a vague and cursory ‘thank you’, tailor your expressions of gratitude to each of your team members. Address them by name, be specific about the ‘why’, and share with them how their contribution made you feel. 

For instance, you might tell a staff member that you appreciate how they took the lead on a specific project, or that you’re impressed by how they handled a certain situation.

2. Be authentic

It’s all well and good to want to capitalise on the amazing benefits of showing gratitude in the workplace. 

But if that effort isn’t genuine, staff will see right through it – and the outcome could be worse than if you hadn’t tried at all.

When it comes to being authentic, you should focus on three key things:

  • Consistency: thank your staff regularly, not just at the end of the year or on their work anniversaries. Pay attention to their achievements and thank them as soon as possible after the fact – not months down the track, when it could come across as insincere.
  • Timing: Pick your moments and avoid showing gratitude at times that may be perceived by staff as opportunistic. For instance, if you’re only thanking your staff in meetings that are attended by your own superior, it might be seen it as ploy to win favour rather than an expression of genuine gratitude.
  • Delivery: How you say thank you is critical to how it will be perceived. Of particular importance – for the reasons above – is being specific in your feedback.

3. Give thanks in person

Often, achievements are acknowledged in group email blasts – which just don’t go far enough.

That’s because emails can often come across as a checkbox, a chore or an afterthought by a manager who knows the value of giving thanks but hasn’t truly internalised it.

Much like difficult conversations are best done in person, so too are positive ones. That means the most impactful expressions of gratitude are often face-to-face.

This could mean in a one-to-one catch-up, a team meeting or even an interception at the water cooler. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, either – gratitude can be just as effective when casually woven into a conversation naturally.

For instance, you might be debriefing on a certain project, which would be a perfect opportunity to highlight the excellent contribution a specific staff member made.

A caveat: consider what the person you’re thanking would be comfortable with, as not everyone likes to be singled out in front of their colleagues.

4. Embed gratitude in your culture

The absence of gratitude in your organisation’s culture can be a big contributing factor to job dissatisfaction, lack of productivity and/or high staff turnover.

That means embedding gratitude in your culture can completely shift the direction of your organisation.

And often, it’s the frequent micro-expressions of gratitude – the generous thank yous; the afternoon biscuit platter; the smile as you pass staff at their desks – that have a bigger impact over grander gestures.

In fact, gratitude researcher Professor Emmons says gratitude is “the ultimate performance enhancing substance at work”.

And that’s not just when it comes from managers – encouraging all staff to express gratitude towards one another can pay huge dividends for your overall organisational culture. 

A 2014 Globoforce report found that when people actively thanked their peers for their contributions, they were 107 percent more likely to identify themselves as highly engaged at work.

So you might consider starting your weekly team meetings with a round robin of gratitude expression – who or what are you and your team thankful for at work this week?

The benefits of gratitude in the workplace can be enormous – while the cost is minimal or even non-existent. So if you’re looking to boost staff wellbeing, can you afford not to thank them?

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