Why Gratitude Must Not Become a Worthless Corporate Commodity

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In the words of William Arthur Ward, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” In this regard, gratitude is the heartfelt expression of appreciation to the people in our lives for their companionship, support and all the blessings we share with them.

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As a recovering perfectionist, I have had to work on my ability to be grateful. Perfectionists suffer from what I call the Performance Compulsion Syndrome, which is rooted in the habit of focusing on the negative in order to fix it. Although this approach has initial positive effects on our ability to achieve our goals, it has long-term negative effects on our ability to think creatively, solve complex problems and achieve sustainable success.

Based on the foregoing, I developed a simple, five-step method to help myself reconnect with the positive aspects of my life. Not only has this method helped me feel and express gratitude, it has also helped many of my coaching clients do the same. The method is as follows:

  1. Count your current and past blessings (mental health, physical health, spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, material possessions, etc.).
  2. Trace back the chain of eventsthat made it possible for you to enjoy said blessings.
  3. Remember each of the individuals who had a rolein making your current life possible.
  4. Acknowledge the virtues you possess (hard work, patience, empathy, love, humility, etc.) that were crucial for you to have the life you enjoy today.
  5. Acknowledge the existence of the unexplainable.As you go through this exercise, you will realize that many of your blessings have very clear origins. However, you will also inevitably arrive to the conclusion that many of your blessings are, ultimately, unexplainable miracles.

After finishing this exercise for the first time, you will feel nothing but overwhelming gratitude. Your eyes might even get a little teary from all the sudden happiness. In fact, those to whom you manifest gratitude may have a similar experience. I tell you, gratitude can be a game changer. In particular, gratitude can do magic at the workplace, which is why leaders must take it very seriously.

Gratitude and leadership

There are two main ways to express gratitude at the workplace. On the one hand, it can be expressed informally through common courtesy and appreciative interactions in a collaborative environment. On the other hand, it can be expressed formally through employee recognition programs. Organizational leaders are responsible for promoting both forms of gratitude as they both have positive effects on organizational culture, work environment and business performance. But it is the latter, employee recognition programs, which will receive our attention now given its public visibility.

The benefits of employee recognition have been proven. For example, a 2012 research study by Bersin & Associates shows that organizations in which top leaders engage frequently in employee recognition are 12 times more likely to generate strong business results. This is a very logical finding since gratitude has also been linked to better health, heightened spirituality, and happiness. However, employee recognition at the workplace is a delicate topic and must be treated with maturity and professionalism. Misleading interpretations of gratitude and recognition may foster a culture of complacency and, ultimately, mediocrity. Employee recognition must always be linked to merit in order to maintain its true value.

As a result of today’s emphasis on employee recognition programs, we have seen how many have tried to abuse the well-meaning intentions behind these initiatives. Some have tried to justify their mediocrity, negligence and flat-out disregard for excellence as being the result of “lack of recognition” by company leaders. Others expect to be complimented for the most basic and unchallenging tasks such as punctuality, submitting a report on time or not missing a workday. Some others choose to compulsively show appreciation for everyone in a strange attempt to avoid being criticized for their poor performance. Needless to say, all of these distortions cause tremendous organizational noise and have a negative effect on company culture and business results.

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Employee recognition must be the result of merit, not employee self-entitlement and misled expectations. Gratitude is a sublime and powerful form of human interaction. Some would even say it is one of the highest human virtues. Therefore, we must not devalue gratitude by turning employee recognition programs into a worthless corporate commodity to avoid employee complaints.

In my own efforts to develop my ability to be grateful, I have learned that the power and beauty of gratitude comes from the fact that we feel it when someone has made a positive difference in our lives. Therefore, if we devalue gratitude by indiscriminately expressing it to everyone, even those who do not make a difference, then it will become a worthless gesture. Especially at the workplace, we must remember that while courtesy is owed to everyone, recognition is owed to those who make a difference.

What do you think?

Are there any thoughts and feelings that hinder your ability to be grateful? What elicits the most gratitude in your life? How does gratitude enhance your leadership skills? What are the most common misconceptions that lead people to misuse the notion of gratitude to justify mediocrity? Is there an employee recognition program at your workplace? Is said program truly based on merit? How do employees feel after they get those recognitions?

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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