The problem with gratitude

Hand of business lady showing card with thank you message

Things I have said this past week: Thanks for unloading the dishwasher. Thanks for feeding the dog. Thanks for helping your sister put her shoes on. Thanks for meeting me for lunch, I needed it.

Thing I have not said: Thanks for taking the time in the midst of a crazy week to give me feedback and encouragement. Thanks for responding to that issue with the online system so quickly the client wasn’t impacted. Thanks for ensuring I see myself as a meaningful part of something greater. Thanks for turning a tense moment around by injecting good humor.

I have actually encouraged my dog for good behavior more than I have thanked my family, and I have thanked my family more than the people I work with on a daily basis. Why are we so reticent to say thanks as often as we should, especially at work? Maybe you’re busy, or maybe you just forget to. Or maybe you think, why should I thank someone for doing their job? Doesn’t that encourage mediocrity? Shouldn’t we reward and reinforce going above and beyond? Yes, of course. Of course we need to recognize and reward rock star-level awesomeness. But small thanks here and there may actually have a bigger impact.

Saying thank you is not just a social grace. It suggests, “I need you and that thing you do.” The opposite of gratitude is, “you owe me.” This competitive mindset pits us against each other. Within it, saying thank you is like saying, “I owe you,” which feels vulnerable. Having a grateful mindset acknowledges that we’re in this together, that we need each other.

The power of gratitude is enormous, for both the thanker and the thankee. From a leadership perspective, taking the time to thank employees shows them that what they do matters to others, which promotes satisfaction and engagement. It reinforces the kind of behavior you want to see more of. But being grateful is personally beneficial as well. Research shows that that more grateful people have better physical and psychological health. They report fewer aches and pains, and experience fewer negative emotions like envy, regret, and resentment. People who practice gratitude have more empathy, sleep better, have better self-esteem, and are more resilient in the face of stress.

So the problem with gratitude is that it’s sorely neglected, especially at work. Whether you want a quick burst of the warm fuzzies, to develop your team’s cohesion, to improve the climate, or to look after your mental and physical well-being – consider saying thanks a bit more often.


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