Leadership for the Greater Good: Reflections on Today’s Challenges From Around the Globe

Practice Gratitude for Your Team – and Develop a Culture of Appreciation in Your Workplace

Drawing of open plan office space with workers

by Peter Weng

20 October 2020

It's OK to recognize that we're living in challenging circumstance, but you have the power to lift the clouds in your workplace by infusing a tone of gratitude into your company culture. In this latest blog, Peter Weng shares tips and strategies for individuals and leaders.

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Recently I noticed that I was treating my job, which I have a passion for, as a long series of tasks and interacting with my colleagues as primarily on the means to accomplish those tasks efficiently. Months of remote video conferences and physical distancing was starting to feel like a grind. It was a wake-up call that the challenges of the pandemic were influencing my mental well-being and the workplace culture.

One simple way to address this challenge is to express your gratitude for your team and everyone’s contributions during these distracting and difficult times. When you as a leader express appreciation you do two things: 1) You create a culture of appreciation and 2) You cultivate your own positive connections with others, an important contributor for your own well-being.

It can be difficult to find gratitude when your own stress is at an all-time high. In the midst of worldwide stress that we can name like the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, climate events (e.g., wildfires across the Western United States), and the U.S. election, there are also those unnamed personal instances that can often feel like “just one more thing” to add to the list.

How can we find the time and energy to stop and say “thanks” in challenging times like this?

Humans are wired to pay more attention to things that are difficult, unpleasant, and negative in our lives – so of course, it is normal to fixate on these aspects, especially while facing historical levels of external challenges. But, the research is also very clear that noticing the positive and cultivating gratitude can support your well-being.

Humans are wired to pay more attention to things that are difficult, unpleasant, and negative in our lives - so of course, it is normal to fixate on these aspects, especially while facing historical levels of external challenges.

So, what should you do? Basically, ignore your brain’s inherent need for the negative, and focus on two things

  1. Appreciate and notice the positive
  2. Cultivate Gratitude
    • Notice the good. Make a commitment to regularly notice the good things around you – such as in the morning and just before bed. This doesn’t have to be something huge – something as simple as, “that was a great lunch,” can help orient you to the positive. During these times, like Mr. Rogers says, sometimes it’s helpful to “look for the helpers” around you. For example, the poll workers putting on masks to support democracy, the firefighters from out of state working 24 hours straight to put out fires, the frontline health workers saving lives. You can even put up a post-it note somewhere noticeable that says “See the Good” to reinforce this perspective. You can make it even more applicable to work – what’s been going right at work? How have your employees risen to the challenge?
    • Express Appreciation. Throughout this year, has there been someone in your life who has treated you with kindness? Who comes to mind when you’re asked this question? It could be a family member, a friend, or even a stranger that has been kind during interactions at the grocery store. Or, zero in on your colleagues for this practice.
      • You can work up to expressing appreciation by first just noticing when this person acts with kindness.
      • Notice what the person says or does that you appreciate. Then acknowledge and express your gratitude. Let them know that you notice, and that you care.
      • You can do this by sending them a short note or a nice text. If you’re going to see them, then say something directly.
      • New research even shows that expressing how someone’s kindness met your needs can be beneficial.
    • Keep a gratitude routine. Some swear by gratitude journals, some take their gratitude to social media. It’s important to make a habit of your gratitude in order to shift the way your brain sees the world. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it helps create a routine. As a leader, maybe you institute a “gratitude moment” at the start of each full staff meeting?
    • Practice gratitude through meditation. This 10-minute seated practice can kick start your gratitude practice. Try it first thing in the morning to start your day with appreciation.

It’s OK to recognize that we are living in challenging circumstances. But, to support your own well-being and express thanks to those who have been providing support, cultivating your own sense of appreciation and gratitude can go a long way to lift the clouds not just for you but for your workplace. You have the power to set the tone of gratitude for your company culture.

Peter Weng

Peter Weng is CEO of Healthy Minds Innovations. Peter’s focus is on helping organizations adopt science-based practices that support mental well-being and performance. He implemented systems of well-being and performance as a leader in large corporations and is regularly invited to share these experiences with corporations, governmental organizations, NGOs, and conferences around the world.

See Peter at #ILA2020Global where he’ll be presenting on, “Developing the Inner Conditions to Lead for Social Justice.”

If you find these reflections to be of value in your work and life, please consider becoming part of ILA’s leadership community.