If you want to see higher collaboration, creativity, and productivity in your team, get over your aversion of saying “thank you” at work and start showing appreciation to everybody. Today! In this post, I will give you 3 steps to create a culture of gratitude whether it’s in organizations or in schools.
Photo creds: NorWood Themes
“There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.” – Robert Emmons
Americans have a really hard time saying “thanks” at work. Maybe we don’t believe we should be thanked for just doing our job or we don’t think we should thank others for doing the job they are been paid for. Whatever the reason, lack of appreciation at work affects collaboration, creativity, and productivity. And that needs to change.
Appreciation is the act of acknowledging the goodness in life. Gratitude goes a step further as it recognizes how the positive things in our lives are often due to forces outside of ourselves, particularly the efforts of other people. Thus gratitude helps us cultivate happiness which fuels success, not the other way around.
This process can rewire our brain and change how we interact and experience life altogether. Because our brain can only focus its attention on either positive or negative stimuli but not both, by engaging our brain in a virtuous cycle of gratitude giving, every time we give thanks we become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and more productive, which makes us happy.
The brain then releases dopamine and serotonin, making us feel good and happy. Then, wanting more of that “feeling good and happy”, the brain continues searching for more gratitude giving and receiving so it can get more dopamine and serotonin. And the positive virtuous cycle begins, helping us achieve amazing results in the process.
Cultivating Gratitude in Organizations
A 2017 study by the American Psychological Association has shown that 55% of employees have reported chronic work stress; 39% reported that work stress has caused work-life conflict interfering with non-work responsibilities; 35% felt regularly cynical or negative towards peers during the workday; 71% showed lower levels of job satisfaction; 34% did not trust their boss; and 46% said that they thought of leaving their jobs.
Whether you are a leader in your industry or a team member, these numbers are scary and sad.
So what causes these feelings? Well, we could say changes in the organization, damaged relationship between leaders and employees, low pay but the main reason learned in the study is employees feel underappreciated by their bosses/leaders.
Cultivating Gratitude in Schools
We have been living hard times in our schools: fear, stress, educational inequities, violence, low levels of engagement, pressure from parents, you name it. Looking at these issues one may ask: “How can I be grateful? And grateful for what?”
I hear you and understand your perspective. However, studies show that the more grateful we are, the healthier, happier and more successful we also are. We become better at problem-solving which can really help with most of the issues mentioned above. Practicing gratitude cause a change in our attitude. As educators, how you feel and behave directly affects your students and their results.
Gratitude research in schools shows that gratitude may contribute to a greater sense of social support, school belonging, and satisfaction with the school experience while lessening students’ stress and depression. This research shows that students who practice gratitude have higher GPAs; experience more positive emotions; and, ultimately, go on to live happier, more meaningful lives.
I work with educators and can attest to those results. A change in the educator’s stance, feelings and behavior can directly affect the way students relate to their teachers and to one another, which will eventually affect their grades.
So, how do we do it? How can we cultivate a culture of gratitude at our workplace?
Changing behavior requires practice and persistence. But it does not have to be complicated or hard. Implementing small, simple daily actions will create momentum, creating the change. Here are 3 effective actions to start implementing today and start seeing results!
1. Start with you, set the example
If we want to see change, we must be set the example and be the ones to get started. Start showing your gratitude every opportunity you have, and make it daily:
- say “thank you”, several times a day.
- send “thank you” messages, telling them why you are grateful.
- show appreciation every time you can: chat with people over the water cooler, take people out for coffee or lunch, tell them how much you appreciate their hard work, the difference they make in the team and in your life.
- send weekly gratitude emails – make sure you have thanked everyone by the end of the month so folks don’t feel ignored. So you will have to find something to be grateful for in everyone you work with. Keep your antennas up!
2. Thank people who usually don’t get thanked
Every organization has those folks who get most of the glory and those who are rarely appreciated but without whom we could not do our jobs. Public appreciation of, for example, custodians, behind the scenes staff, kitchen folks, gardeners, improves their morale, increases trust, and makes their contributions visible, emphasizing the organization’s culture of gratitude to all.
So go on thanking those folks publicly. They deserve it.
3. Provide opportunities for gratitude sharing
When people are thanked for their work, they are more likely to be more helpful to others as well. The key is to create different opportunities for gratitude sharing:
- At the end of meetings, share your appreciation and ask if others have appreciation to peers that they would like to share.
- Create a “gratitude wall” where folks are encouraged to place their “thank you notes and why”. Use post-its for it.
- Gratitude bulletin board.
- Allow opportunities for gift-giving as it fosters gratitude to the giver and the receiver. Non-monetary gifts are the best gifts of all!
The 3 strategies suggested for organizations work just as well with your school staff and educators.
Include the students on this journey. If possible, students should have a gratitude journal. That can be as simple as a self-decorated or plain composition book, or lose printer paper will do too. Just something they can write on, daily.
Here are 3 strategies to help students develop a gratitude practice: (a 5-minute routine)
1. Help students get settled in and calm their nervous system down with simple breathing techniques
As soon as students walk into the classroom, ask them to sit down, close their eyes, straighten their spine and take slow, quiet, deep breaths. Help by guiding them with the inhale and exhale. “Slowly and quietly take a deep breath in. Now, slowly exhale.” You may even count to four to help with the “slow breath” (say it 3 times). It doesn’t have to take too much time, 3 slow breaths will do. 1-minute max.
2. Gratitude journal
Ask students to think of 3 things they are grateful for and write them down in their gratitude journal. This should take 2 minutes max.
3. Ask students to think of one person they are grateful for that day and write their name down
Guide them by saying “Think of someone who you noticed doing something good today, either for you or someone else. Or it could also be someone who has been good to you lately. Write that name down. Using very few words, explain why you chose that person. For instance: Mary: made me laugh yesterday.” This should take 2 minutes max.
That’s it! If you are consistent with the students and they practice every day, you should be able to see collective results in a month or two! When students feel the calmness, peace, gratitude, and emotional control coming from their educators they will mirror them and respond in kind.
Appreciation is good for the giver as well as the receiver. It makes everybody feel good about themselves and the work they do. When looking for ways to improve relationships and increase collaboration and positive results, whether in organizations or schools, cultivating a culture of gratitude is the simplest, easiest, most effective way to get started.
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Focusing on what matters most, let’s improve our communication and transform our interactions one conversation at a time.
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