By Michelle Gibbings

When organisations analyse their culture and determine their values, ‘gratitude’ isn’t a trait that is likely to appear, and yet it is increasingly evidenced as being critical for wellbeing and success.

In a working world that’s constantly changing and throwing up obstacles and challenges, the ability for leaders and employees to withstand stress and adversity and be resilient is critical.

Beyond Blue’s 2017 study into the state of mental health in the workplace highlighted the impact. Their research found only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy, with 21% of respondents having taken time off work in the prior 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy, and this statistic was more than twice as high among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy. Cultivating a culture of gratitude is often overlooked.

This has flow-on impacts to productivity and effectiveness, with a PWC report concluding that absenteeism from mental health costs Australian businesses about $4.7 billion per annum; presenteeism, where people are less productive in their role due to mental health issues, costs around $6.1 billion a year; while compensation claims cost an estimated $146 million per annum.

While there is never a perfect solution, research from Berkeley University’s Greater Good Science Centre discovered that practising gratitude increases happiness levels, positive emotions, improves relationships and increases a person’s resilience, as well as reducing risk of depression.

Practising gratitude in the workplace isn’t about ignoring emotions or feelings of stress, sadness or hurt. Rather, it’s about equipping leaders and employees with the strategies and mechanisms to best cope with challenges and change. So rather than letting a situation overwhelm or consume their every waking thought, they can progress through it.

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Central to this approach is a focus on connection, support and focusing on others.

As the leader

Cultivate an environment where relationships matter and, as a leader, devote time to important relationships every day. Ring people. Have a coffee with them. Make the connection personal. People who are happy and grateful have strong connections to the community, colleagues and good friends.

Take the time to congratulate your team for their success – be it a handwritten note or phone call – to express gratitude for their efforts. These small gestures go a long way to building lasting relationships.

For your team

Establish core rituals in the team where team members are encouraged to focus on what they can do for others – gratitude. When a person does something nice for someone else it makes them feel good, helping them realise the positive forces they have in their life and being grateful for that.

Build in daily or weekly practices where you ask each team member to share back what they are grateful for. This may initially be resisted, so you will need to role model the way. This isn’t just about the big achievements but about the small things that can happen every day. It may be that a meeting went well or the traffic flow was easy.

Look for opportunities where your team members can build connections and deepen relationships. As well, talk to your team about the role that gratitude can play as a guiding principle for how your team works and connects.

Practising gratitude isn’t a one-off activity. For best results, it’s something that leaders and team members focus on each day.

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