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Why Giving Thanks Is Good for Your Career

With Thanksgiving near, some thoughts on workplace gratitude


Soon, we will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, acknowledging our blessings and giving thanks for our good fortune. It’s a lovely tradition. But this year, why not try to extend the practice of gratitude beyond the Thanksgiving table to the workplace and, privately, to yourself for your life?

For many employees, thanking others at work would be a switch. A 2012 John Templeton Foundation study found that most of us rarely give or receive thanks at work. Yet, as my Next Avenue colleague Richard Eisenberg recently wrote, gratitude is something employees crave.

So why are examples of workplace gratitude uncommon? In part, there’s the belief that we shouldn’t have to thank people for doing things they’re paid to do. But it’s also because we often feel uneasy about the correct way to say thanks in the workplace.

How to Express Thanks at Work

So, in the holiday spirit, here are a few suggestions to help ease the way:

A thank-you card is a heartfelt way to express your gratitude when a co-worker has gone above and beyond, or after a huge event or project.

Just say it. Skip the email or text and go tell that awesome co-worker or manager how much you appreciate him or her. But tailor your delivery to the recipient; some people prefer to be acknowledged in private, others bask in public praise.

Exactly what you say is up to you, but for the greatest impact, make sure it’s specific, heartfelt and genuine. It’s remarkable how even a few words of praise will help improve your work relationships.

Send an e-note. We all complain about getting too much e-mail. But have you ever complained about getting a personalized e-mail expressing genuine thanks? I doubt it.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, positive psychology researcher Shawn Achor recommends starting your mornings by spending two minutes writing an e-mail of praise or thanks to a different friend or colleague each day. It doesn’t need to be long; just a few sentences will suffice.

Try to do it for at least 21 days (the time it takes to establish a habit). Sending these e-notes will not only increase your happiness, they’ll help broaden and cement your work relationships.

Write a thank-you card. Handwritten cards are an increasing rarity in the Internet age. So the next time you want to show your appreciation to a work colleague or someone in your professional network, consider doing it the old-fashioned way. A thank-you card is a heartfelt way to express your gratitude when a co-worker has gone above and beyond, or after the completion of a huge event or project.

If you’re in job search mode, you should always send a thank-you note soon after an interview, either by e-mail or card. But don’t forget to send a handwritten note of thanks to friends and colleagues who’ve actively helped you during the search, too.

Another great use for thank-you notes is when you’re leaving a job, even it’s for retirement.

When my brother, David Jarmul, elected to take an early retirement from his university job in 2015, he sent 70 personalized notes to colleagues to let them know about his decision and to express his thanks for their time working together. As he noted in this Next Avenue post, David was blown away by how much people appreciated his personal approach.

“If I have one single piece of advice, sending personalized messages would be near the top of the list,” he said. “People really seemed to treasure these notes.”

Thank the people who never get thanked. This tip is prompted by the recent presidential election. Like many Americans, I’m disturbed by all the anger and hostility expressed during the campaign. On both sides of the divide, it’s clear that there are too many people feeling undervalued, unappreciated and invisible.

Within every workplace, too, there are employees who put incredible effort into jobs that few ever notice: the janitor who mops the floors, the admin who perfects her manager’s PowerPoint, the cashier who always remember your lunch order, the temp who answers the phones…

If you’re in a position where you can thank these workers with a raise, bonus or promotion, I urge you to do so. But all of us, no matter what our rank, have the power to make other people feel appreciated. It may not offer a direct payoff, but it’s the right thing to do and good karma is never a bad thing.

So the next time you’re about to walk past one of these workers, stop, chat and express your gratitude. Doing so won’t take much time and will likely prove the highlight of their day — and yours.

Practice Gratitude

Beyond expressing thanks to others, it’s equally important to focus on all that you are grateful for in your own life.

Positive psychology research shows that by regularly practicing gratitude you can significantly improve your happiness. This can ultimately pay off for you in your career, since happier people are more productive, engaged and resilient workers. It’s why Achor says, “The greatest competitive advantage you could have is a positive and engaged brain.”

Fortunately, practicing gratitude is easy to do. Here are three simple practices to consider:

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Spend two minutes a day making note of at least three new things you’re grateful for and do it for at least 21 days. Positive psychology research has shown that keeping track of what you are thankful for trains your brain to scan for the positives in your life and stimulates production of serotonin and dopamine — the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals. That in turn, reduces feeling of anxiety, stress and helplessness, which is an invaluable aid for navigating an uncertain workplace.

2. Savor happy memories. Rekindling happy moments from the past is a proven way to boost your mood, which, in turn, can make you more productive and resilient at work.

Fortunately, the holidays offer a wonderful chance to share treasured family videos, photos and family stories with loved ones. But you can reap the benefits of savoring fond job-related memories, too. Surround yourself at your workplace with things like photos of conferences you attended or awards you received. Or get together with colleagues to swap humorous “war stories” and remind each other of important accomplishments.

3. Be grateful for what you’ve learned from career setbacks. Nobody enjoys when things don’t go well at work. But you can lessen the pain when you acknowledge their lessons and reframe the losses as potential gains.

A few questions to help you find the silver lining:

  • What lessons did this experience teach me?
  • Can I find a way to be thankful for what I learned or gained from this experience, even though I was initially disappointed by it?
  • What new abilities did the experience draw out of me?

In closing, I want to express my sincere gratitude to you for following me here on Next Avenue. Happy Thanksgiving!

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