~ by Kelly Bush ~
Please, sir, I want some more… some more please and thank you, that is.
If there is a buzzword as we transition from 2016 into 2017, I think the case can be made that it is gratitude. For the past few years, discussions about gratitude have infiltrated popular culture. Even the packaging on products such as tea and chocolates exhort us to take a moment and focus on gratitude. Articles proclaim the health benefits of expressing and feeling gratitude, and in recent yoga classes I find my teachers are referencing its role in our well-being more and more.
So if gratitude has become ubiquitous, why then does it seem to remain somewhat elusive in the work environment?
If gratitude helps us thrive in all aspects of our lives – and is even good for our health – then why isn’t it on the rise at work? After all, saying please and thank you to our colleagues costs nothing but a bit of thought and a moment of time. It is essentially free and yet possesses such great value. So why isn’t it being distributed more generously? And what can we do about this?
First, you have to look for it.
When I decided a few years ago to change careers, one of the many things that influenced that decision was my frustration with what felt like an almost complete lack of gratitude in my then-profession. There was a pervasive culture of over-work, one-upmanship and unreasonable expectations combined with inadequate reward/recognition that was incongruous with my values and happiness. It left me feeling trod upon and resentful and that is NOT how I thrive.
When employers fail to recognize the value of their employees appreciably – whether in words, with compensation or by giving growth opportunities – they lose talent. Losing talent means losing the resources invested in developing that talent and even if nothing else here resonates, in simple terms it means a hit to the bottom line. If that doesn’t wake people up … well …
While not every role or organization I now pursue will necessarily be a hive of graciousness, I have found that because I now prioritize gratitude, I am better able to find it. For more than a year I recently had the privilege of working for someone who said please and thank you for nearly everything. I knew that when I went the extra mile to achieve a result that my manager saw my efforts and appreciated them because he always said thank you.
When leadership acknowledges your contribution to the organization, it is an incredible motivator to continue to perform at a higher level. It cost him nothing to let me know my work was appreciated, but that had great value to me. (Thank you, Richard.)
So what do I do when gratitude isn’t forthcoming?
A common piece of career advice is to model your hours/style/attire/practices on those of your supervising managers and to look to them as exemplars. If gratitude isn’t a noticeable part of their professional arsenal, and leadership hasn’t incorporated gratitude into their professional practices, then what? I don’t advocate jumping ship straightaway – because gratitude goes both ways – and walking away without a plan isn’t usually commendable. (There can be exceptions.)
What helps me thrive in these situations is to take back my agency. Because regardless of a manager’s choices, I am free to be gracious and grateful at work. Whether or not other people engage with gratitude, I am always free to do so. That means say please. Say thank you. Say these things when a colleague does something you appreciate or need. Thank your supervisors when they spend an extra minute teaching you something, or give you an opportunity or help expand your skill set.
Literally be the change you wish to see. It may not change how leadership operates, but my experience has been that I feel more satisfaction at work and thrive more professionally when I know I have expressed gratitude to my colleagues. Upholding my own personal code of conduct has little to do with the choices made by others.
Gratitude for the imperfect.
Sometimes it becomes clear that even after bringing your own gratitude to the table and having served it generously, there just isn’t enough to go around. And that may mean that after thoughtful consideration, it is time to look for a new opportunity or to simply leave.
In my experience, this has been a difficult decision and usually involves disappointment, frustration and sometimes, anger. It is at this point that gratitude becomes absolutely necessary. Because whatever the reason for which I chose to part company with an organization, there are things for which I am grateful – and must express gratitude – in order to thrive in my next role.
There are things I learned. There are things I learned to avoid. There are skills I honed and experience on which I expanded. Sometimes learning that something is not right for me is the lesson I take away from something. And while it may not have been pleasant to learn, I find I am grateful for the knowledge afterward.
In finding gratitude for what an experience taught me – however imperfectly – I am able to recognize its value and role in my career. I am better able to see what was positive and when moving forward, to see its merit and integrate it into my own professional arsenal. Because as the many articles, advisors, teachers and gurus have been proclaiming, gratitude is good for us. It has become essential for me to thrive at work (and life).