No one needs to tell you all the reasons why 2020 has been a tough year. But as we navigate the holiday season, it’s important to be thankful for each other’s help and to understand why gratitude does us good.
Whether you’re giving thanks or accepting them, gratitude binds us together with the good works we do for each other. And that’s a scientific fact, confirmed in a wide range of psychological research. So, we’re going to take a few minutes today to look into why gratitude is good and what it does for us in work and life.
It’s human nature to feel gratitude.
An organization’s culture can either accentuate or suppress gratitude – but it’s important to keep in mind that the emotion and its expression are fundamental to being human. Gratitude “has deep roots that are embedded in our evolutionary history, our brains and DNA, and in child development,” according to “The Science of Gratitude,” a 2018 research review by Summer Allen at the University of California, Berkeley.
Gratitude promotes initiative.
Thankfulness can be enormously motivating, a benefit to both individuals and the organization. “Employees engage in greater citizenship under leaders who are transformational, trusted, and supportive, and [employees] take more initiative when leaders express gratitude,” Mark Bolino and Adam Grant wrote in the Academy of Management Annals.
Gratitude inspires the prosocial.
When people are thanked for their work or the help they’ve given, they’re likely to take additional actions to benefit others. “Gratitude inspires people to be more generous, kind, and helpful or prosocial, and it strengthens relationships and may improve the climate in workplaces,” says the Berkeley report.
These prosocial behaviors are promoted by gratitude.
What exactly does prosocial mean in the context of work? Here’s one formulation: “Prosocial organizational behaviors consist of helping, sharing, donating, cooperating, and volunteering. ... [These] are positive social acts carried out to produce and maintain the well-being and integrity of others,” according to “Gratitude in Organizations: A Contribution for Healthy Organizational Contexts,” which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology.
Gratitude and helpfulness create a virtuous cycle.
There’s a positive feedback loop between gratitude and helpful acts. One study found that when organizations and supervisors helped employees, they felt gratitude and went on to help their organization more frequently than other employees did, says the Berkeley report.
People help more when they know they’ll be thanked.
When the link between helpfulness and thankfulness is strong and well-established, gratitude has benefits before it’s even expressed. Bolino and Grant cite research demonstrating that even anticipated gratitude can motivate prosocial behavior.
Gratitude engenders responsibility.
Thankfulness strengthens the ties that bind individuals to the people who rely on them. A study of white-collar employees found that those who had a stronger tendency to experience hope and gratitude also reported a greater sense of responsibility toward employee and societal issues, says the Berkeley report.
Thankfulness breeds satisfaction.
An earlier study suggests that gratitude makes people feel more satisfied at work, says the Berkeley report. “Individual gratitude – feelings of gratitude that vary day-to-day – and institutionalized gratitude – the gratitude that is embedded in the culture and
policies of an organization – both uniquely and significantly predicted job satisfaction.”
Gratitude helps to eliminate the negative.
Conflict and toxicity are too common in the workplace. Gratitude can help. “Gratitude increases positive relationships, social support, and workers’ well-being, reduces negative emotions at the workplace, and enhances organizational health and success,” says the Frontiers in Psychology paper.
“Gratitude in organizations is crucial because it has a direct effect on improving the organizational climate and contributes to enhancing individual well-being and reducing negative emotions in the workplace, such as rancor and envy,” the paper says. “It is also important to employee efficiency, success, productivity, and loyalty.”
Without gratitude, helping can feel risky.
Gratitude can also enable people to overcome doubts that arise from the complexities of offering help at work.
“Individuals often withhold help because they are uncertain about whether beneficiaries will value their help,” wrote Adam Grant and Francesco Gino in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper, “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior.” “Because giving can lead beneficiaries to feel incompetent, helpless, and powerless, beneficiaries often reject the offers of helpers. … An expression of gratitude can reduce the helper’s experience of uncertainty about whether the help will be appreciated.”
Gratitude wards off burnout.
With so many of us feeling overworked, stressed, and disoriented through the trials of 2020, the risk of burnout is especially high. Gratitude can help with that, too. “A study of mental health professionals found that workplace-specific gratitude – how grateful employees reported feeling for their co-workers, supervisors, clients, and job – was negatively associated with burnout,” says the Berkeley report.
The best way to infuse gratitude and appreciation into an organization – and reap the benefits described above – is through peer-to-peer employee recognition. With this type of program, employees are encouraged to publicly thank each other and frequently provide positive feedback on people’s strengths and what they’re doing right. We could all use a little more of that this holiday season.
About the AuthorMore Content by John Rossheim