Don’t Dismiss Gratitude: Here’s Why

It’s November, and I’m discussing gratitude. Yes, it’s cheesy and everybody’s doing it, but there is a reason why we as a culture return to the concept of gratitude each and every year. It’s on the nose, but it’s often forgotten. And quite frankly, it’s often misunderstood and used ineffectively in the workplace.

Understand the Purpose of Gratitude

Gratitude isn’t just a box to tick on the leadership checklist nor is it simply an accessible mood booster. There are practical implications of gratitude and it is essential to building a strong team. You can elevate your leadership impact by learning how to be thankful not only for what goes well but also for what doesn’t go well. All organizations must experiment with trial and error to figure out what works. A misstep, a weak process, or errors in the system are all opportunities for learning and improvement. Recognizing those opportunities and finding new solutions are moments to be grateful for. 

Leaders who have a grateful mind know the importance of looking for things to be thankful for and sharing that gratitude with others. Expressing gratitude in a meaningful way is just a small part of a leader’s toolkit, but it is essential. A recent study confirmed that 59% of employees say they have never had a boss who “truly appreciates” them and 53% would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciated. There are countless opportunities throughout the day to influence the team with words – be intentional about what types of communication you choose. If it’s always instruction or constructive criticism, this will ultimately have a negative effect. The entire team is paying attention to what you say, as well as how, when, and where it is said. This is what ultimately builds your organizational culture. As the leader, bring your full awareness and attention to your communication and keep it balanced with genuine gratitude.

Understand How to Express Gratitude

Gratitude not only shapes how your team performs, but it also shapes how you interact as a leader. When you seek things to be grateful for, you’ll notice opportunities for gratitude everywhere, making it more authentic over time. The more you experience it, the more it comes to you. It’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see the same make and model on every street. 

There are several ways to ensure that expressing gratitude is done effectively and sustainably. The first is to be authentic and specific. It’s not enough to casually say, “Good job” when passing someone in the hallway. Take the time to go find the person, identify what they did well, and articulate the impact their work has on the organization. While a generic “Thank you” is a step in the right direction, the more specific you are about why you’re thanking someone, the more likely they are to feel sincerely appreciated. 

People also share and receive gratitude in multiple different ways. Just like the five love languages, there are several ways to communicate and accept gratitude. This really depends on their driving forces, the motivation behind their work. Consider what each individual needs, signaling that you actually understand and care about them. For those who are motivated by autonomy, a note to say thank you accompanied with more freedom will go a long way. Others want recognition, accolades that communicate appreciation for their work. Some team members might be more impacted by you noticing their efficiency than anything else. What you thank people for and how you do it depends on your understanding of who they are.

Understand Your People

Gratitude can take many forms, and it might take some time and intentionality to learn what works best for each member of your team. Ask your team what makes them feel most valued and appreciated. Make this an individual and group discussion and consider orchestrating fun activities that give people an opportunity to learn more about each other. This will help you incorporate ways for team members to share gratitude for each other too. 

Appreciation leads to trust and a feeling of belonging. When everyone knows that what they do matters, their sense of belonging increases. Knowing that someone trusts and appreciates their work feeds into that connection. Ensure time for team members to share their expertise with each other. Gather feedback on ideas for improvement, share the strategic plan, and help people see their importance in achieving it.

Gratitude increases engagement, productivity, and company culture. So take the time to thank the people who help your business function every day. Look for the good things your team is doing and acknowledge them. It doesn’t need to be a big sweeping accomplishment; everyday behaviors and attitudes deserve thanks too. 


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About Amy Lafko

As a Physical Therapist, Amy spent years in school learning best practices for patient care and how to put the patient first. Like so many technically skilled clinicians, she advanced to a leadership role. Spending 20+ years in operational leadership, she had an epiphany: Putting the customer first isn’t the path to success or fulfillment. Rather, the most successful organizations and practices put their people first – and exceptional customer care, profitability, and effectiveness naturally followed.