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Positive Psychology at work: Culture of Gratitude

posted Apr 16, 2015, 5:21 AM by Sandeep Kulshrestha

“Those who have the ability to be grateful are the ones who have the ability to achieve greatness.” 
― Steve MaraboliLife, the Truth, and Being Free

Positive Psychology is the study of human behavior with an objective of defining happiness and well-being. Although in its nascent stage, it is one of the most talked of branch or extension of Psychology in the recent times. The founder of Positive Psychology movement in the west, Dr. Martin Seligman has worked on a repository of “Character strengths” and Gratitude is one of 24 character strengths which also include Forgiveness, Humility, and Honesty etc. (Ref: http://www.viacharacter.org/) As per viacharacter.org, There are two types of gratitude:

  • Benefit-triggered gratitude- the state that follows when a desired benefit is received from a benefactor.
  • Generalized gratitude- the state resulting from awareness and appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to yourself.

Both of the above can be ingrained in Organizations and gratitude can be practiced as an overall organizational virtue. Organizations are changing and they should, or else there would be stagnation at all fronts. There is a great deal of talk on aligning people with culture these days and corporations are all gearing up and competing to provide better facilities, engagement activities etc for the employees so that they would be more efficient and productive and deliver work with a benchmark of “peak performance”. Having said that, there is one component of our human character which is displayed comparatively less at the workplace and that is Gratitude. In very rare occasions, people say words of gratification to the seniors and the peers. Although very few people would have studied gratitude as a research topic, my experience in Human Resources has been really fascinating when it comes to gratitude and I encouraged people to showcase gratitude as I firmly believe that it is strong character strength and not a perceived weakness. In various small ways one can express gratitude and it can form one of the bases of the human resources framework. Some of the tips may include the following;

Making it as a part of employee on-boarding

This might not work with various conservative organizations like law firms and consulting business but if as a policy statement it is informed to the new employees that “our organization values gratitude” or say, “we encourage people to encourage others with words of gratitude”. This can be a statement which would project your organization which values team work, autonomy and accomplishments which are well appreciated.

Having a “month of gratitude”/”week of gratitude”

Well, this is rather an interesting exercise which can be initiated by the Human Resources or Talent Management Team. Organizations can either choose a “month of Gratitude” once a year of a “week of gratitude” every month and I prefer the latter as every month gives an opportunity to express gratitude. As a part of this activity, there can be one specific town hall meeting, hosted by a particular team who volunteers and everyone can be invited over coffee, expressing gratitude to each other. This can also run into the online formats through intranets/email messages. It is also in conjunction with the Positive Psychology concept of finding “meaning” at work. If your colleagues and peers are appreciating not only your work but yourself, as a person in your own right, it may attach some meaning to your work aspirations. As a part of this, employees can perhaps post a note of gratitude at somebody’s desk or post it in any creative way (maybe on a person’s back J)

The last work day of the month “Gratitude Lunch”

If companies have budgets or if it has an existing cafeteria, one day can be celebrated as “Gratitude Lunch day” with some small gifts roped in (say, like felicitation cards). This may be hosted by top/senior management as a token of gratitude to all employees who sweat and toil in making the organization competitive and efficient. This can be perhaps one of the best employee alignment tools one can think of. Though a small gesture, it makes employees feel happy and appreciated and it goes the long way in retaining your best performers. This is like saying, "because of all of your efforts we are, what we are"

Like this, there can be various other ways in which Gratitude can be a part of your organizational culture, not merely just for the sake of tokenism but as a journey towards creating a productive yet happy organization

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