I’ll never forget the boss I once had who told me that he preferred to have employees who didn’t need to be praised. That’s right – he didn’t ever want to say “Good job!” The only positive feedback I ever received from him came after I had organized a huge (and successful) event for major clients. He said quietly, “That went well.”
Needless to say, that job was not a highlight of my life. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I needed a pep talk every day, or wanted to be told how great I was all the time. It’s just that it helps to know that people appreciate you and believe in you.
It turns out that my boss’ managerial style was not in the best interests of the business either. Some recent research reported on Inc.com shows a strong correlation between employee recognition and good business results. Companies that place importance on recognizing and rewarding their employees measure significantly better in productivity, employee engagement and customer service. The most successful companies tie employee recognition to the organization’s values, and also make sure that people are acknowledged by their peers as wells as their superiors.
I’m sure there are workers who don’t need or want to be praised, publicly or privately; but words of gratitude, a simple thank-you, can never be wrong. Expressions of gratitude can be powerful for their giver and their recipient, as well as the people around them. Just because you were doing your job doesn’t mean gratitude is out of order.
Writing a letter of gratitude to a previously unrecognized benefactor is an assignment I give my stress management students each semester. I can’t take credit for the idea; I got it from Martin Seligman. (Thank you, Dr. Seligman!) For most students, this is a deeply meaningful exercise; many write letters of appreciation to former teachers, parents, coaches and friends. Some write to public figures who have influenced them. For everyone, the letter is an opportunity to say “thank you”, either for the first time, or in a more formal way than they ever have before.
There is a great deal of research around the health benefits of practicing gratitude, much of it by Robert Emmons at U.C. Davis. But the rewards go beyond physical health. For some people, practicing gratitude means they are more likely to be making progress on achieving their personal goals; for others, daily gratitude practice leads to increases in energy, enthusiasm and attentiveness; and for children, thinking gratefully leads to more positive attitudes about school.
If you are curious about how the practice of gratitude might improve your life, you can be a part of a new project spearheaded by U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis. “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude” is a 3-year, $5.6 million endeavor that includes as one component, an interactive, on-line gratitude journal. At the website Thnx4.org, you can register and start keeping a 2-week journal, which will be shared with others on the site and become part of the larger research project.
In the meantime, perhaps we can all expand our practice of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day. In addition to expressing thanks for our food, our many blessings and our families, maybe we can each take a moment to remember and thank someone who helped set us on the right path, or was there for us at a crucial time, or just showed kindness when we needed it most.
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer