The pace of work can be unrelenting and employees may feel that praise and appreciation for their hard work is hard to come by. But given ongoing workforce pressures related to the pandemic, particularly the Great Resignation, expressing gratitude in the workplace is more important than ever, according to Lisa Ryan.
Ryan, founder and chief appreciation strategist at Grategy, a professional gratitude consultancy, virtually spoke with attendees at Convening Leaders 2022 about the importance of openly and frequently expressing appreciation for coworkers and staff. Ryan cited one of the first studies she read when she began researching the psychological impact of gratitude: At the University of California, Davis, a professor divided random students into three groups — students who were asked to write down what they were grateful for each day, students who were to write down their frustrations for each day, and students who simply recorded the day’s events. After 10 weeks, the gratitude group reported having fewer physical ailments than before, exercised more than the other groups, and felt more joyful, emotionally available, and enthusiastic than they used to.
“Gratitude is not this fluffy, ethereal thing,” Ryan said. “There’s numbers behind it. There’s research behind it.” Ryan shared seven strategies — or “grategies” — on how to apply the science of gratitude to the workplace and, in turn, retain employees at a time of high turnover across industries. Here they are in her own words.
1. It is not about the money. Now, this is not an excuse to pay your people less than market wage, because of course we are going to be seeing salaries coming up — but it’s not about the money. When people feel valued, appreciated, connected, [and] heard, they are more willing to stay and to work for less money than they think they need to. … Create the type of culture where people do feel valued by the organization, and money becomes secondary.
2. Listen to your people. Even if they come into the industry and they are brand new to meetings, conventions, and events, they’ve never even been to an event before — they see the world differently. So even though you have years of experience, take the time to listen to your employees, to listen to their ideas, because they’re seeing things differently from you. And when you act on their ideas, make sure that you give credit where credit is due. Because what you’re doing is you are sending a message to the rest of the team that you are listening to them and that their ideas matter.
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3. Watch for signs of burnout. It’s paying attention to those little signals. Saying hello, having those conversations with your employees — “How are you doing today, really?” If you have remote teams, still make sure that you’re getting together with online virtual meetings, but having some fun along the way, sharing personal successes, sharing stories with each other, and building those relationships. Because the Gallup organization has found that when somebody has a best friend at work, they are less likely to leave. So when you and your team really look out for each other, you care about what happens to each other, both on the job and personally, we’re going to stave off those signs of burnout and make a better commitment by adding that flexibility.
4. Think about your business differently. When you have meetings and events, people have to be there on site during the event. But what about the rest of the time? Think about ways you can offer more flexibility. Focus on results. As long as a job is getting done, does it matter where, when, or how it’s getting done? … I was speaking to a roofing association. This company thought about their business differently because they were having such a hard time keeping their employees, [so] they decided to give employees the weekends off. They put on roofs Monday through Friday, and then Saturday and Sunday, the employees could do whatever they wanted to do. Did they lose some business as a result because they weren’t working on the weekends? Probably. But were they more profitable? Absolutely, because they were actually keeping their employees, [while] all the other roofing companies were making [their employees] work all weekend.
5. Have “stay interviews.” We’re all familiar with exit interviews, but isn’t that a little late? “Hey, why are you leaving?” as they’re going out the door. With a stay interview, it can be as simple as tell me three things that you like about working here. Now, those three things become your fodder for future recruiting. And then ask the question, tell me three things that you would change if you were me. And that’s the difficult question, because we want to be the master of the poker face. No matter what that employee shares with you, your only response is thank you for sharing, because if you argue, if you justify, if you do anything to downplay what they just told you, they will never share again.
6. Recognition matters. Instead of waiting five or 10 years to really celebrate the people that you have on board, why not look for smaller increments? [Celebrate] their one-year anniversary and make a big deal of that, because that’s going to make them feel that they’re committed to the organization and they want to stay.
7. Don’t forget to thank people. Thank them early. Thank them often. And you might be saying, “Lisa, why should I thank my people? I mean, they get paid every other week on a Friday with their paycheck.” No, that’s not the point. The point is that there’s so many times that we focus on when things are going really, really well, or we focus on when things are going really, really bad. And we forget about all the times where business is running smoothly. Take the time to catch people in the act of doing things well and thank them.
Casey Gale is associate editor of Convene.