How often do you express appreciation at work? I’m not just talking about thanking someone when, for example, they hold the door open…although that is important. I mean showing your gratitude to a colleague because they have helped you in a way that has made a real difference, and letting them know that.

I have lots of opportunities to do this in the workplace because the people around me are generally very helpful. But I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t always take the time to acknowledge this. I get so caught up in working through my ‘to do’ list, and moving from one thing to the next, that I often forget or just don’t find the time. Additionally, like many others, my focus can be pulled in the direction of the one or two things that didn’t go well during my work day rather than all the good things that had happened.

Recently I did a small experiment where I spent several weeks trying to develop more gratitude in relation to work and understanding what, if any, difference this made. Gratitude in the workplace has been shown to have numerous benefits including a reduction in negative emotions, improved working relationships and supporting a move towards greater functioning (Emmons, 2003).

The changes I made as part of this experiment included:

 

Writing down three things each evening that had gone well at work and why they had gone well.
Taking more time to thank colleagues where it was appropriate, and being specific about what they did.

 

Six weeks later here are some of the things I learned:

It was important to remain authentic – although I had set out to thank others more, I wanted it to be a genuine expression of gratitude rather than doing it because it was part of the experiment. It had to be done at the right time and in a way that felt comfortable for me. Doing this helped me stay engaged, and had a greater impact on both myself and the other person because the gratitude was real.

Gratitude had not been a focus for me prior to this exercise, so it was hard to get into the habit of experiencing this in the moment. I found I was getting caught up in my work during the day, and saving gratitude for the evening when I was writing about the three things that had gone well. I therefore created automatic notifications on my mobile phone to remind me to focus on moments of gratitude during the day.

When I began this experiment I was rushing through the written exercise each evening to get it finished. I was not giving enough thought to the things I was writing about. As soon as I realised this I started to slow down and spend time on it, rather than seeing it as something I needed to get done so I could move on to the next thing. I also made sure I wrote about the things that had the most impact on my day.

It helped to think about someone I had worked with previously, who was good at expressing gratitude so I could consider what they did differently and how I could learn from them. In the same way, I looked back on times when I had done this well in the past. This enabled me to identify some of the changes described above.

About half way through the experiment I explored alternative ways to develop my feelings of gratitude in order to provide variety. I decided to say thank you in person more (rather than just using email) and to write thank you cards which could be kept.

At the end of the experiment I looked back over what I had written during the previous weeks. This was a good reminder that there were a lot of successes and good things that had taken place and I often forget these or put them to one side, instead focusing on the things that hadn’t gone so well. This experiment helped me become better at noticing the good things and making sure I didn’t miss out on them.

References

Emmons, R. A. (2003). Acts of gratitude in organisations. In: K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.). Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline. (Kindle Paperwhite 3 version). Retrieved from amazon.co.uk

About the author: Preeti works in HR and is currently studying for a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology.

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