"I'm starving," is a phrase I correct quickly and often with my 18-year-old. The words we choose are important and powerful, and my son has certainly never been starving.
He's lived an advantaged, comfortable life and I want him to be mindful of it. As a child, I once dropped a carton of milk while leaving a store, and my mother cried over losing a precious portion of our grocery budget. Replaying that moment in my mind reminds me to be more appreciative.
In business relationships, appreciation is a dear commodity. My company, Kabbage, has grown to a point where we're fortunate enough to offer employees uncommon perks, like free lunches and exercise classes. Like many businesses, we started on a bootstrapped budget, and it's striking to see the appreciation of perks wane over time. The uncommon becomes common, which becomes routine, slipping from our notice, or worse, expected.
Gratitude doesn't come effortlessly. It is a learned skill, a conscious practice, and we can all benefit from more practice.
Data shows America's standard of living continues to rise for most. This is echoed by Branko Milanovic, who writes in his book, The Haves and Have-Nots, that the poorest five percent of Americans are richer than nearly 70 percent of the global population, yet reports show high levels of discontent, exhaustion, and unhappiness in America. I'm not suggesting that riches equate to happiness. Rather, objective facts suggest an insidious problem in our homes and workplace cultures: an eroding lack of gratitude.
Recent studies have confirmed what we know intuitively: The mood and mindset of any individual within a network impacts everyone else's attitude--an emotional contagion. Practicing gratitude creates ripples of positivity that boost morale and productivity in your family, your company culture, even an entire town.
Some managers worry that conscious gratitude could sap energy from the healthy dissatisfaction that drives us to improve and innovate. But science proves the opposite: People who keep a gratitude journal are more motivated to meet goals than those who prioritized goals alone. Better still, according to the study's author, a profound sense of gratitude for what we have inspires a desire to contribute more.
So how do you encourage and infuse gratitude in your company? Start with these six strategies:
1. Carve out time to recognize outstanding work.
Focus on what's going well, from exceptional employees to recent big wins. My company does this every week with Town Hall meetings when employees recognize other employees, which leads to reciprocating gratitude across teams. Others will start meetings with a minute of gratitude.
2. Build relationships between employees.
When Jack in marketing knows that Jill in accounting will be working late to fix his mistake or meet his deadline, he'll be appreciative and more empathetic. When work is outsourced or out of sight, we forget to appreciate the people doing it.
When my company was growing, we were intentional to not outsource teams or services. A chief reason was to maintain strong connections with everyone working on the same company goals. It has also helped expedite customer resolutions, since everyone is in the office.
3. Cultivate connections with customers.
Your business couldn't exist without them. Show them special consideration whenever you can. At Kabbage, for example, we have a "surprise and delight" program in which employees can show their gratitude towards customers.
Since we provide an automated funding solution, many customers never need to speak or interact with a human. The program allows us to build stronger relationships with personalized thank yous.
4. Presume positive intent.
In all established relationships--with vendors, coworkers, and certainly customers--frame oversights or miscommunications as honest mistakes. In an era when it seems everyone is spoiling for a fight, your kindness will reinforce the value you place on relationships.
5. Amplify praise.
Satisfied customers and others may send thank-you notes or kudos without knowing exactly who deserves them. As a manager, prioritize praise. It inspires others and reminds each employee of the hard work involved at each step of a greater process.
Constructive feedback is critical for improvement. Don't forget to acknowledge the good.
6. Create opportunities to give back.
Tackle a company charity event, sponsor a 5K fundraiser, build for Habitat for Humanity, mentor young people, or match your employee's contributions to charities of their choice. Giving back both inspires gratitude and spreads it.
Gratitude is essential to a healthy company, but few managers know how to encourage or model it effectively. It starts with you.