Most conversations about gratitude revolve around the individual, personal benefits.
Gratitude absolutely transforms our internal lives and selves, but it may have even more power: the ability to transform entire cultures, including the culture of the workplace.
One of the main reasons why people leave their jobs is underappreciation. Many employees only hear from their bosses when something goes wrong. Most rarely, if ever, hear words of appreciation and affirmation.
What so many companies fail to recognize is that gratitude isn’t just words or feelings—it’s social capital.
Every single encounter with a coworker works like a transaction. As you interact, you either ‘deposit’ positive social capital into the relationship (making this coworker feel appreciated, for example) or you ‘withdraw’ social capital, furthering a lack of connection.
Left alone, under appreciation deepens and spreads over time. And those small withdrawals of social capital ultimately compromise the entire company’s capacity to succeed.
But a sense of appreciation—the knowledge that our work is important—builds incentive (aka a whole lot of positive social capital). A workplace full of appreciated (and appreciative) workers unlocks the potential of an entire company.
The following strategies are based on this concept of gratitude as social capital. Whether you’d characterize your workplace as a positive or negative environment, there is room for greater transformation through gratitude. And if no one has told you: Your part is crucial. You can start improving the quality of your workplace (and your life), well, right now.
1. Reconsider your morning routine.
Last week, I mentioned the opportunity we all have to wake up with a gift mindset. If we wait to summon gratitude until we’re walking into the workplace, it’s going to be tough to sustain through those first emails and personal interactions—especially if the workplace is a negative environment.
Make gratitude an official part of your daily prep, and give it a quality time slot. Don’t multitask. Sit for a moment with your full focus on naming some provisions in your life (home, breakfast, employment). A few moments of mindset work can improve the quality of all of your interactions for the rest of the day, which will improve the quality of your coworkers’ and your clients’ days, too.
2. Remember a subtle truth about hierarchy.
Job titles may look like a pecking order, but the reality is that a company is a group of dependents. You depend on your coworkers, and they depend on you. Everyone has intrinsic value, and so does their work. Acknowledging this fact daily inspires gratefulness. Appreciation works against contempt.
3. Say thank you (actually say it), and be specific.
Any word of thanks goes a long way. Just stopping at a coworker’s desk is a sacrifice that implies: “You are worth my time.” Saying thanks for something specific is that much more impactful—and instructive. When someone knows in exactly which way their work is valuable, they’ll remember and be motivated for the future. For someone who’s overworked, a word of appreciation provides a balm of encouragement. For someone who’s dissatisfied, gratitude infuses work with dignity and meaning.
4. Run the conference room nothing like a courtroom.
Be the one who is quick to acknowledge your own mistakes. When we practice quickly acknowledging our slip-ups (including our gratitude deficiencies), we keep the workplace from sliding into courtroom mode, where blame drives problem-solving. In conflict, it’s tempting to shut out gratitude until the problem is solved. In reality, without gratitude, the real problem gets harder and harder to solve.
And at the very least, continue to consider this: You have real potential to be a bearer of gratitude. That potential is individual, but in cultures like the workplace, it carries expansive powers. Don’t underestimate. Your thanks may be the singular catalyst—the crucial investment that invites and enables your coworkers to become their most creative, productive, and generous selves.
Counterstories is a blog collaboration between conflict resolution specialist Steve Beck and writer/editor Rachael Schmid. If you have a powerful story of forgiveness or peacemaking (or just want to share your thoughts on this post), we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.