What we’ll cover:
How gratitude makes us happier
How gratitude makes us healthier
How gratitude makes us better employees
Why gratitude is good for the bottom line
The recipe for a culture of gratitude
JEN I’m Jen Sartor and this is Darcy Jacobsen.DARCYHi!JEN Darcy’s done a lot of research into this scholarship around gratefulness and its impact on employees and companies, so she is here to unpack some of it for you. I am going to serve as a host and take you through what Darcy has uncovered, and then we’ll offer you some tips for how you can create a more grateful workforce in your company.
JENFirst, let me tell you just a little bit about GloboforceWe are the pioneers in social recognition. What we do is we partner with organizations to help them create peer-to-peer recognition programs that are tied to their specific core values.As our name might indicate, we have a global presence, and service companies with employees in 140 countries. We’re a completely configurable SaaS platform, and are platform is totally accessible from the mobile phone.And one of the really interesting things about recognition is all the underlying data that recognition creates, and that data can be used for performance management and even for culture management. Darcy will give us the run down on what we’ll cover today.
DARCYOkay, and here’s what we’ll cover today.How gratitude makes us happierHow gratitude makes us healthierHow gratitude makes us better employeesWhy gratitude is good for the bottom lineAnd lastly, how can you establish a culture of gratitude in your company
JENBefore we dive into the academic studies we thought it would be appropriate to set the stage with our own Mood tracker study.Twice a year we ask employees about their attitudes toward their jobs One of the questions we asked this past year was about being thanked. It probably isn’t a surprise to find that people like being thanked for their work.94% of workers told us they like being appreciated for the work they do.
JENIn fact, in that Moodtracker report (which is available on our website) we found adirect correlation between people who have been recognized recently and those who are most engaged. And also among those who have been given a chance to recognize.. Which also makes them more engaged. But we’ll get to that a bit later.For now, we thought we’d ask you. When was the last time someone shower gratitude toward you at work, for doing a great job or helping them out?
JENSo if you are one of those who has been recognized recently… the fact that recognition feels good might not be news to you. But thanking people does more than make people feel good. It actually also impacts the bottom line in a lot of ways. One is in the area employee productivity.When we asked workers in our Moodtracker survey, 78% of them said they would actually work HARDER if their efforts were recognized.
DARCYRight. Studies have proven that when people are given the opportunity to express their feelings of gratitude to someone else they actually become happier, themselves. 25% happier, according to some researchers. Whether expressed in person or in the written word, gratitude increases both happiness and “pro-social” behavior that enables people to be empathetic and generous. That’s a huge topic for organizational psychology and for positive psychology—which looks at what is working well in organizations and how we can replicate it. And it is what we’re going to lay out for you today.
JENSo now we’re going to jump into that scholarship and Darcy’s going to share some of the research that is going on, in the topic of thankfulness and gratitude, and how that impacts our lives –both at home and at work.This first section of studies deals with happiness. People who feel and express gratitude are happier!
JEN intro So this first study is about emotional well-being, which would be psychological health, stress, life satisfaction and happiness. Gratitude increases all of that?DARCY commentaryA 2007 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that “gratitude is uniquely important to well-being and social life.” That study showed a relationship between gratitude and well-being that was independent of personality factors (extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, conscientiousness, or agreeableness), and proved that over time gratitude leads to lower stress and depression and higher levels of social support. Work by researchers at UCDavis shows that “grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.”
JEN intro And grateful people are easier to get along with?DARCY commentaryA paper published in 2009 in the Clinical Psychology Review by researchers from Hofstra and several UK universities claims that people who express gratitude are more extroverted, agreeable, open, conscientious, and less neurotic. The study suggests that gratitude is associated with habitual positive well-being and a wide variety of adaptive personality traits conducive to developing and maintaining positive relationships: “Grateful people were less angry and hostile, depressed, and emotionally vulnerable, (and) experienced positive emotions more frequently. Gratitude was also correlated with traits associated with positive social functioning; emotional warmth, gregariousness, activity seeking, trust, altruism, and tender-mindedness. Finally, grateful people had higher openness to their feeling, ideas, and values (associated with humanistic conceptions of well-being, and greater competence, dutifulness, and achievement striving.”
JEN intro Grateful people are more resilient to trauma, as well?DARCY commentaryStudies of Vietnam War veterans have shown that gratitude is significant in helping people to maintain emotional well-being after traumatic life experiences.Resilience, says the American Psychological Association, is the “process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”And the workplace can be as traumatic as any other experience. Types of organizational trauma include: layoffs, mergers and acquisitions, violence in the workplace, death or serious injury, natural disaster, fire, flood, major reorganizations, the turnover of senior leadership or sudden loss of key talent.According to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, “the brain experiences the workplace first and foremost as a social system. When people feel betrayed or unrecognized […] they experience it as a neural impulse, as powerful or painful as a blow to the head. Most people who work in companies rationalize or temper their reactions; they “suck it up,” as the common parlance puts it. But they also limit their commitment and engagement.”Traumatized organizations experience a breakdown in trust and communication and productivity. Workers feel powerless and hopeless, and a strong sense of loss. In fact, according to analyst David Sirota, who has studied the issue of layoffs during recessionary periods, only about a third of companies that downsize gain in increased productivity and profits over a subsequent 3-5 year period. These companies also underperform the stock market over that time. The best way to both prevent and respond to these events, say experts, is to build up your resilience in the first place. (Blog post)
JENOkay. So this next set of studies digs deeper into this idea of gratefulness and actual health – the sort of health that requires the care of a physician and impacts healthcare premiums.Thankful people are not only happier people, they are actually healthier people.
JEN intro Grateful people sleep better. Can you shed some light onthis for us, Darcy?DARCY commentaryNot too much light… cause people are sleeping!Yes, a 2012 study from a group of Chinese researchers looked at the combined effects of gratitude and sleep quality on symptoms of anxiety and depression. They found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and with lower anxiety and depression. Those results were echoed in a study by the University of Manchester. And of course, sleep, in turn, has been linked with things like improved memory, healthier weight, lower stress, and higher levels of creativity, stress and attention.
JEN intro And that means we are physically healthier?DARCY commentaryYeah, cause in addition to the effects of more sleep, there are other studies that directly link gratitude and physical health. At the University of Connecticut, researchers found that gratitude has a protective effect against heart attacks. According to expert Robert Emmons of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, it also strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, increases resistance to pain, correlates with better exercise habits, and encourages us to take better care of our health.Gratitude can also aid in recovering more quickly when you have health issues. In a study of organ recipients, scholars from UC Davis and the Mississippi University for Women found that patients who keep journals of their appreciation scored better on measures of mental health, general health and vitality than those who keep only routine notes about their days.
JEN intro Grateful people are less depressed? DARCY commentaryYep.In this study, researchers from UPenn, URI and U Michigan tried a number of different interventions thought to increase happiness. This included things like recording memories and writing down personal strengths. In one, participants were given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked. Participants in that intervention showed the largest positive changes in the whole study. This boost in happiness and decrease in depressive symptoms was maintained at follow-up assessment one week and one month.Researchers also had participants write down three things that went well and their causes every night for one week had a long-lasting impact. After one week, participants were 2% happier than before, but in follow-up tests, their happiness kept on increasing, from 5% at one month, to 9% at six months. All this, even though they were only instructed to journal for one week. Participants enjoyed the exercise so much, that they just kept on doing it on their own.The authors of the study calledfor therapists to employ gratitude as a clinical tool, saying: “giving people the skills to increase their gratitude may be as beneficial as such cognitive behavioral life skills as challenging negative beliefs .”
JEN OK, so we’ve talked about the many ways gratitude makes people’s lives better – it makes them happier, it makes them experience better emotional well-being, it makes them healthier, it helps them sleep better. That’s all great for all aspects of our lives.But what about specifically at work?Well, it turns out that grateful—of thankful—people are also better employees. So let’s have a look at some of that evidence.
JEN intro In this first study, researchers found that grateful people are more likely to help others.DARCY commentaryWell, this is indirectly shown in many studies. Butone 2006 study conducted at Northeastern University, specifically studied this effect. The researchers actually sabotaged participant’s computers and then as the subjects were struggling with making them work, they had a “helpful observer” jump in to help some of them. Afterward, the subjects who had been helped were more likely to volunteer to help someone else with an unrelated, and time-intensive, task. In this study, gratitude was shown to be far more powerful than simply inducing a good mood, which was the alternative intervention.
JEN intro And gratitude makes us achieve more?DARCY commentaryIt does. A study by researchers from the University of California asked subjects to keep a daily journal of things they were grateful for. Two other groups kept journals of daily annoyances or general daily observations. Those assigned to keep the gratitude journals showed significant increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy, when compared to the two other groups. Likewise, in a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers surveyed 1,035 high-school students and found that the most grateful had more friends and higher GPAs. Even athletes benefit from gratitude, according to a study from Taiwan, which found that gratitude was a predictor for team satisfaction and life satisfaction and helped to protect against athlete burnout.
JEN intro We hear a lot today about corporate citizenship and prosocialbehavior and how important that is for success. Gratitude also impacts that?DARCY commentaryRight. A 2007 study in the Journal of Business Ethics looked at white collar workers and found a positive relationship between gratitude and corporate social responsibility. That study’s authors said that “employees with stronger hope and gratitude were found to have a greater sense of responsibility toward employee and societal issues”Emmons and McCullough (2003) also found that grateful persons not only demonstrate more positive mental states (for example they were enthusiastic, determined, and attentive), but also are more generous, caring, and helpful to others. McCullough also found that grateful individuals have also been found to be more prosocial - pro-social means you are willing to step forward and do things for other people—even without a promise of anything in return. We’ll talk about that more as we go.
JEN intro And we talked about resilience to trauma before, but this is about everyday resilience. Grateful people are less likely to burn out?DARCY commentaryYes, a number of studies have looked at burnout. There were the athletes I mentioned earlier. And then a 2010 study found an inverse relationship between dispositional gratitude and workplace burnout in teachers in China. Plus, research by Bennett, Ross and Sunderland (1996) found that when patients and managers provided gratitude and recognition to employees who worked in carer roles for HIV/AIDS patients, it buffered those employees from burnout. And of course, I’ve written before on the blog about the tremendous challenge with burnout in healthcare. It is called “compassion fatigue” and I’ve blogged before about how it can be combatted by refuelling with gratitude and recognition. (My 4yo daughter likes to refer to this as filling your bucket.”)
JEN intro And ethics have also become a hot topic—especially in industries like finance. Gratitude actually makes us more moral?DARCY commentaryA 2001 study found that gratitude is used as a “moral motive” – that is, it encourages that pro-social behavior we were talking about, and discourages disruptive behavior. Three studies cited showed that those who felt gratitude were more likely to help others.This turns out to be true even if you are only witnessing the gratitude. Prof. Jonathan Haidt from the Stern School of business has done a lot of research not only on the power of giving and receiving gratitude, but also the impact on those who merely witness positive interchanges in their workplace. Those bystanders, he says, may experience positive emotions and behavioral change simply from being exposed to gratitude.(Blog from last week)
JENSo we’ve been talking about the benefits of feeling gratitude when someone does something for us. But it turns out actually doing things for people—and inciting that gratitude—also carries with it a lot of benefit.We have a few proof points for this from the scholarship, as well.
JEN intro The first one is this study out of Harvard Business School. Giving makes people happier.DARCY commentaryYeah that study, which was done in 2009 at Harvard, found that : “Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop (with happier people giving more, getting happier, and giving even more).”So just the act of giving is a boost for us, never mind the receiving and the feeling grateful.
JEN intro And giving has a lot of benefit… we actually have an interview with Adam Grant from the Wharton School on our website. He’s done a lot of work talking about how being a giver actually increases organizational commitment to a company.DARCY commentaryYeah that’s right. Adam Grant recently published a book called Give and Take, and he has found that giving is a powerful driver of prosocial behavior. Grant did a study of a Fortune 500 company that allowedemployees to contribute to an employee beneficiary fund.The money was set aside for employees in need — someone facing a pregnancy that would put a strain on their finances, for example, or the funeral of a loved one. Interestingly, Grant found that it was not the beneficiaries who showed the most significant increase in their commitment to the company; it was the donors, even those who gave just a few dollars a week. Through interviews and questionnaires, Grant determined that: ‘as a result of gratitude to the company for the opportunity to affirm a valued aspect of their identities, they developed stronger affective commitment to the company.’ So, just by providing them with an opportunity to connect with and give generously to their co-workers, the company actually increased workers’ commitment to the company.
JEN And our own research also backs this up.In our Moodtracker study, we looked at the difference between employees who were given an opportunity to recognize their coworkers in the last year and those who had not had that chance.We found that those who had been empowered to give recognition were more than twice as engaged. In fact 56% rated themselves as highly engaged, vs only 27% among those who were not given a chance to recognize.
JEN So lets run another poll:Do you think your company has a culture in which employees regularly recognize peers for their contributions?
DARCYInstitutionalized gratitude is defined by scholars as “gratitude that is culturally embedded within the organization, through its people, policies and practices, such that thankfulness and appreciation are customary features of daily work life”.
JEN intro Obviously engagement is a high priority for many companies.DARCYYes, and higher levels of happiness, satisfaction and organizational commitment all translate into higher engagement.And engagement has a profound impact on the bottom line. According to Gallup’s most recent research, high engagement gives companies double the odds of success. 37% lower absenteeism25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)28% less shrinkage48% fewer safety incidents41% fewer patient safety incidents41% fewer quality incidents (defects)10% higher customer metrics21% higher productivity22% higher profitability
JEN intro What about just one part of that. Organizational commitment?DARCYOrganizational commitment has a demonstrated impact on voluntary turnover rates, and turnover impacts the bottom line in a very direct way. SHRM estimates that “employee replacement costs can reach as high as 50 to 60 percent of an employee’s annual salary.” And last year we put together an infographic that shows that even a modest sized company with an average turnover rate could be losing tens of millions due to turnover. Which doesn’t even address the loss of knowledge and organizational trauma that comes from high turnover.
JEN intro Here is pro-social citizenship again.DarcyYeah, so these studies are telling us that gratitude makes us more ethical and more connected to the company’s mission and goals. This includes volunteerism, but it also makes us more likely to pay it forward and help our co-workers proactively. Of course all of those things benefit a company’s bottom line. Because affective commitment boosts productivity, safety and teamwork, and because it makes us more ethical and emotionally connected.And on a corporate citizenship level giving pays off. Researchers from Harvard Business School analyzed environmental and social policies among 180 companies and found that High Sustainability companies –exhibiting corporate citizenship behavior, outperformed their counterparts on the stock market and in accounting performance.
JEN intro So here’s something we’ve only lightly touched on. What role does social capital play in all of this?DARCY“Social capital in organizations refers to the relationships among individuals through which information, influence, and resources flow.” Giving and gratitude are an avenue for that flow and those relationships—as we see through all the previous slides: engagement in our work, affective organizational commitment, and pro-social citizenship behavior. If those are about our work, our company and our mission, then social capital is about our own part in that. “It is important because as we build high levels of social capital among our peers, and I’m quoting wikipedia here: “we reduce transaction costs, facilitate communication and cooperation, enhance employee commitment, foster individual learning, strengthen relationships and involvement, and ultimately, enhance organizational performance”
JEN introAnd continuing on that vein of the individual--all of this rolls up to benefit health and wellness and happiness.DARCYYes, absolutely. As we saw earlier, research suggests that workplaces which enable virtuous behaviors, such as gratitude, foster employee well-being. Gratitude impacts job satisfaction, which is also long standing and well accepted measure of wellbeing at work. In fact, one study (Fisher 2010) of employee happiness posited job satisfaction as one of the three top indicators of wellbeing at work.And of course, where gratitude impacts health itself, we reap returns in the form of fewer absences, or lost workdays, greater vitality and productivity and lower healthcare premiums.That impacts the bottom line. But as importantly happiness itself impacts the bottom line. According to the work of Robert Emmons, and joint research from the Wall Street Journal and iOpener Institute Happy employes are: Twice as productiveStay five times longer in their jobsSix times more energizedTake 10 times less sick leaveThey help their colleagues 33% more than their least happy colleagues; They raise issues that affect performance 46% more; They achieve their goals 31% more They are 36% more motivated.
JEN intro Okay, so we’ve made the case for the benefits of gratitude and giving—both for employees themselves and for the company. But how can you as HR professionals and managers actually trigger all these benefits for your employees and your organization? We’re going to close with some strategies for how to create a culture of gratitude at your company.DARCYRight. One of the things that Robert Emmons and the team at UC Davis have really stressed is that employees gain benefit and higher job satisfaction, by being part of a work-place culture that endorses gratitude. This is in addition to – and above and beyond – the actual gratitude an employee feels within him/herself. There are two effects -- called the contagion and elevation effects, that work to amplifygratitude is amplified across an organization.The contagion effect refers to people’s tendency to copy the behavior and attitudes of those around them. I’m sure you’ve noticed that moods—whether they are positive or negative—tend to spread. People feel good and grateful and this tends to be catching.The elevation effect refers to people’s observation of others who have accomplished great things, and its tendency to evoke aspirational feelings in us as well – where we want to become a better person or worker or just lead a better life.According to Jonathan Haidt, "Powerful moments of elevation sometimes seem to push a mental 'reset button,' wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration” It also “increases the likelihood that a witness to good deeds will soon become the doer of good deeds, and sets up the possibility for some sort of upward spiral.Elevated organizational performance, in turn, fosters pride in the organization, enjoyment in work, and more helpful and respectful behaviors in employees. “
JENOkay, so this is what we’ve put together as something of a primer on how to turn those contagion and elevation effects on and build a culture of gratefulness in your company:The first is to make some space where that is even possible. To create a culture of appreciation which primes people for noticing others doing great work or helping them out.The way we tap into the giver effect that Adam Grant was talking about is to help workers to be givers. This might include volunteerism, but it also is as simple as facilitating recognition among workers. Instituting formal recognition is an important start on this because it helps people to form a habit of recognition that created an upward spiral of gratefulness.
DARCY The second thing, once you have a way to facilitate that activity, is to put meaning behind it.This means tying that recognition and gratefulness closely to your company’s mission and goals. And also prioritizing learning and development and encouraging people’s natural instinct to better themselves. This ties into the idea of virtuousness—which is what individuals and organizations aspire to be when they are at their very best—and it represents conditions of flourishing, ennoblement, and vitalityThere was a study in 2004 at U Michigan showed that when virtuousness exists in organizations, performance does not deteriorate during downsizing -- rather virtuousness and organizational performance are positively related. Innovation, customer retention, employee turnover, quality, and profitability all are positively associated with virtuousness. And this connects not only to development and growth but also to resilience.That’s because virtuousness in organizations produces two effects: an amplifying function that creates self-reinforcing positive spirals, and a buffering function that strengthens and protects organizations from traumas such as downsizing.I blogged last week about this.
JENOkay the third piece of this is about emotional connection. One of the things a lot of these studies talk about is the connection between gratitude and affective commitment.This is basically, emotional engagement, and creating strong emotional ties between your company and employees, and among employees, is critical to a culture of gratitude. We recently had a guest post on our blog from author Susan Piver, about just this topic --how important connection is within a company.Enable workers to reach across the barriers of different departments and business units and appreciate and connect with one another. Give subordinates a vehicle to thank and appreciate and recognize their managers as well as peers and direct reports.Connect people and then find a way to visualize those connections. The way we do it is through a social graph which collects every recognition moment and then lets you see the strength of connections among individuals and across departments.
DARCY And then the final piece is in how you actually facilitate these moments.First of all, ad hoc is not the way to go when you’re trying to drive appreciation—because employees and managers get busy and forget… so it is important that you facilitate this by making it part of your culture. You want to make that thanks public within your company so that you can trigger those two effects we were just talking about: contagion and elevation. In our solution we do this with a social newsfeed that anyone in your company can see. They become witnesses to recognition (blog post) and can jump in and be part of it by adding congratulations. And then the act of actually writing down the gratitude is also important, so be sure your system has a component where people write specifically what it is that they are grateful for.Writing down one’s gratitude produces a cumulative effect that increases month over month. In the UC Davis study,people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful—which moved the needle on their well-being. But this becomes magnified when we express that gratitude to others. When you express gratitude, happiness levels jump up an average of 15 percent.
DARCYAn agency called Soul Pancake tested out some of these findings and posted a video to YouTube about it. You can find it there or go to our blog and search happiness or Soul Pancake. They asked people to write down as much as they could about someone who had made a powerful positive impression on their life, and then share that appreciation. They tested folks before and after and found happiness did indeed increase dramatically when people were able to express their gratitude
JEN & DARCYQuestions?
Also visit recognizethisblog.com for Derek Irvine’s insights