Living In Gratitude: Grateful Leaders

Gratitude is not a limited resource, nor is it costly. It is as abundant as air. We breathe it in but forget to exhale.

– Marshall Goldsmith

Being appreciated is correlated with increased performance and engagement at work. Yet, 59% of employees state they’ve never had a manager who “truly appreciated” them, and 53% said they would stay longer at their place of employment if they felt their work was more appreciated.

So, if people like and want to be appreciated, why aren’t more managers expressing gratitude for their employees?

A 2018 study might explain part of the issue. Researchers ask people to write letters of appreciation and then predict how that letter would be received. The researchers then asked the recipients how they felt after reading the letter.

The letter writers dramatically underestimated the positive impact their letter would have and also believed that the recipients would feel awkward about receiving such a letter.

A recent HBR article discusses the outcomes of research conducted around power positions and the expression of gratitude.

They wanted to answer the questions:

Does having power (e.g., being a manager or executive) influence feelings and expressions of gratitude? If so, why?

The various experiments showed that individuals in higher power positions express less gratitude than those in lower or subordinate roles.

The findings suggest that “the more power organizational members wield at work, the less gratitude they are likely to feel and express due to elevated feelings of entitlement and reduced concerns about their relationships with others.”

As noted above in the letter-writing study, some managers feel that telling their employees they are valued and appreciated has little influence.

The benefits of expressing gratitude have a ripple effect: not only does it increase motivation, performance, and creativity at work, but when we feel appreciated, we are, in turn, more likely to express our appreciation of others. Information sharing and acceptance of different ideas and perspectives increase.

Gratitude doesn’t have to cost anything, but it can pay dividends. Saying thank you, acknowledging a job well done or a challenge solved and giving kudos to whomever you can whenever you can is powerful.

HBR’s researchers discovered that perspective-taking — the ability to imagine the point of view of how other people experience something (like receiving a letter of gratitude) — is a way leaders can begin to appreciate the contributions of others. Perspective-taking also seems to dial down feelings of entitlement and boosts close relationships. There is also a direct link between perspective-taking to expressing gratitude in the workplace.

Leaders shouldn’t dismiss or underestimate the impact expressions of gratitude will have on their employees. Nothing can replace receiving genuine, heartfelt appreciation from managers, bosses, and leaders.

May your day and your workplace be filled with gratitude and good things.

Read the HBR article referenced in this blog.