There is a reason why the adage “one bad apple spoils the bunch” has lived so well. In the workplace, even one person with poor behavior can disrupt an entire team, which then stretches out to the organization. If this situation sounds familiar to you, then maybe it’s time to create interventions before it becomes too tough to manage. Patrick Veroneau brings a study that looks at the effectiveness of gratitude interventions on reducing workplace mistreatment. He goes deep into the power gratitude holds to turn an entire organization around. Follow along to this episode to learn more.
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How Gratitude Improves Workplace Behaviors
In this episode, I’m going to focus on a research paper that was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The purpose of this research was to examine the effectiveness of what they called Gratitude Interventions on Reducing Interpersonal Workplace Mistreatment. That is such an important topic in terms of a lot of the work that I do. When I work with groups and organizations, I see the negative impact that poor behaviors have within a team. That stretches out to within the organization, whether it’s creating silos or other unproductive, disruptive behaviors that diminish the effectiveness of groups. To me, this caught my eye because it’s something that I talk a lot about. From a leadership perspective, gratitude or practicing gratitude has such an important impact on us internally. If we’re not good within ourselves, we cannot externally be good or as good as we need to be for those around us.
As I mentioned, I’m going to focus on one piece of research here but I’ll bring in other examples or observations that I have in regards to this. The title of the article is, How a Gratitude Intervention Influences Workplace Mistreatment: A Multiple Mediation Model. It was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The lead author on it was Lauren Locklear. What I found interesting about this is that I put out a journal called the Power Journal. One of the things that I stressed there is the first behavior I talked about. Praise is about the importance of demonstrating gratitude, practicing gratitude on an irregular basis, how that impacts our own happiness and well–being, and our ability to be resilient or to create resilience. I don’t think anybody would disagree. If we’re looking for developing resilience or the need for resilience, it certainly is in the environment that we’re in right now.If we're not good within ourselves, we cannot externally be good or as good as we need to be for those around us. Click To Tweet
They conducted two different studies in this piece of research. In the first study, they had participants over a two–week period. They got notified every day at 3:00 in the afternoon. They were asked to journal about their workday. They could do it at any time up until midnight of that night. What they did was there was a control group in here. The first group, the group that they’re watching in terms of gratitude, prompted them by asking, “Try to think about as many things in your job/work, both large and small, which you‘re grateful for. Give some examples. Try to think of new ideas that you have not focused on in the past.“ It’s forcing people to think about different things that they’re grateful for. That’s important.
It goes back to work done by Shawn Achor in his 21-Day Happiness Challenge. It’s certainly something that I have promoted in the Power Journal that I created. When we can challenge ourselves to think about different things that we’re grateful for, what it allows us to do is to recognize, “I didn’t think there were these many things that I could be grateful for.” The reason being is because, as a society, we become so focused on the negative and what isn’t going well. We need to frameshift here. This is what this provides us the opportunity to do. What’s interesting is the second group in this first study. What they did was the only thing they were prompted and asked to do was, “Try to think about as many things in your job/work, both large and small, that affected you now.“ It’s very different.
The first one is focused very much on things that you’re grateful for. The other is, “Tell me about things that affected you now.” Most might go in the direction of what didn’t go well now and what things did impact me now. I didn’t have the right resources. I didn’t have enough time to do what I needed to get done. I didn’t have the Wi-Fi connection I needed, whatever it is. We can see where the difference there can take place. What happened at the end of the two weeks is that, in both groups, they asked those filling out the journaling exercise to also identify the name and contact of one of their coworkers. The following week, they would invite these coworkers to complete a survey, which they were asked to report on this person’s behavior over the last two weeks.
In the second study, they followed this same format, but they delayed that request by another two weeks, in terms of asking the coworkers to rate them. A few areas where employees or coworkers were questioned might have been around gossip. The question could have gone something like, “How often in the last two weeks has your coworker criticized a coworker while talking to another work colleague?” That was around gossip. To me, what’s interesting about that is I do a lot of work around The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. We do a series of workshops that are called The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team. In that, the individuals on the team will fill out an assessment on the team’s level of trust, how they enter conflict with each other, how they gain commitment with each other, how they hold each other accountable, and how they are focused on the results that the team or the organization is focused on.
What’s interesting is there are drop-downs there. Employees can pick, “If we were to improve trust, what would need to happen?” One of those areas is people can check that box saying, “If we were to increase trust within this team, then we would need to address gossip. There would need to be less gossip.” You’d be surprised how many times that comes up. This speaks specifically to that. The other thing is around ostracism. That was one of the other things they looked at. One of the questions that they would ask is, “How often in the last two weeks has your coworker shut others out of the conversation?” What’s interesting about this is, in the Cables Model that we will work from, to be in that model is around belongingness. A lot of the research shows how important inclusion is. When people feel ostracized, pushed outside of the group, it has extremely negative effects. Not only on that individual but on the effectiveness of the team, organization, and engagement overall. We know that. The research is so strong there in terms of the impact that has.
Even more so in the environment that we’re in right now, we think about ostracism. In some ways, we’re somewhat ostracized already or isolated, at least. Many are not working in an office setting anymore that they used to prior to March of 2020, at least in the US. That creates its own set of inefficiencies and challenges for individuals. That’s what this spoke about. They found out that those individuals who focused on writing down things that they were grateful for each day has a positive impact. Not only on themselves and how they felt but also on the surveys that went to the coworkers. The coworkers noticed a difference in terms of their behavior. The results of this are from the researchers’ perspectives. The efforts to enhance employee’s feelings of gratitude, this gratitude intervention, was effective in reducing incivility, gossip, and ostracism when those employees practice this gratitude. Also, the impact was felt by their coworkers. It was observed by their coworkers. Others could see that this made a difference.
This is so important in terms of one small thing that we can do. If we’re able to find ways for individuals to practice gratitude or to discuss the importance and the impact that it has the ability to change how people show up in the workplace. As I’ve often said, when I initiate a lot of my work in terms of leadership development, the place that I start first is, internally, with the leader. If they are not happy with who they are and they feel good about themselves, happiness, well–being, resilience then externally, they can’t be there for somebody else. It’s the same thing with a coworker. I have seen that consistently. Those people who are unkind toward others speak more about themselves about their unhappiness with who they are. This is impacted a great deal by not feeling as though there are many things for them to be grateful for. They’re focused on how things are not going well for them. They’re unhappy with who they are. If that’s the case, how can you be there for other people if you are not even able to be there for yourself? That’s where this needs to start.
I know many may be thinking, “How do I do this? This seems like a lot of work.” There are a number of things. In this study, they focused on looking or asking individuals to talk about, “What were they grateful for during their day in terms of work?” Individuals can practice gratitude outside of a workplace setting. There are different things that we can focus on to be grateful for. In the Power Journal that I’ve put together, there were suggestions that I make in terms of things like, “Identify three things that you appreciate about yourself. Are you a good listener? Are you compassionate? Are you good with details?” There are things that when we focus on, “What are we good at?” We probably too often can be difficult on ourselves, and we look at all of our deficiencies. “What am I good at? What things am I grateful for in terms of who I am?”
Another powerful one when we talk about resilience is finding ways to be grateful for the challenges that we’re faced with. When we can find a way to be grateful for our challenges, what it provides us an opportunity to do is to have control over them to realize that this challenge, “I’m going to benefit from this. Somehow I’m going to grow from this to become stronger.” Let’s think about that in an office setting or I can be grateful for the challenges that I’ve had to deal with in terms of relationships with other people. It’s allowed me to focus on how my behaviors impact that individual, what things I’ve been able to do myself to grow, and build better relationships. Another thing that you could do is, maybe it’s involving writing a letter or a note to somebody else to tell them how grateful you are for them, for what they’ve provided to you.
Another way that we can build on our ability to not only demonstrate gratitude but also, it’s like a ripple effect. We pay it forward. I guarantee you, when somebody receives a note from you that expresses your appreciation for what they’ve done for you, they may be thinking about how somebody did that for them, too. It may be prompt them to then send a letter to somebody else to do that. There are so many different ways that we can be grateful. One other thing that was not in this study but could be very helpful as well for individuals is, if we look at bookending our day, we start our day out in a place of gratitude where we’re waking up and thinking about, “What are the things that I’m grateful for? What are the things at work that I’m grateful for? What are the things that I’m grateful for about this current situation that we’re in? How can I grow from this?”
At the end of the day, journaling for a few minutes provides a great opportunity for us to redirect. We started our day out thinking about gratitude. We end our day journaling and writing down what went well for the day. Our nature might be to think about what didn’t go well now, what didn’t get done, or what’s challenging that I’m going to have to face tomorrow. If we can leave the day and go into restorative sleep, we know the importance of that, in a place of reflecting on what did go well now, it forces us to remain positive. This is not about being a Pollyanna. This is simply saying that there are things that go well during the day. Why not focus on those? That’s where our positive energy and well–being come from when we focus on those things. It impacts every aspect of our lives, whether it’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. When we’re in a place of gratitude, the research will back up that those things are important.
I’ll leave one last piece in terms of the conclusion of this study. The authors of this study recognized how little evidence there is out there or focus has been on looking at, “We might know that there are problems within organizations, but what do we do about it? How can we break this cycle of gossip, uncivil behaviors, things like ostracism, or other disruptive behaviors? We can identify the problems but what are some of the treatments that we can use to address this?” This one focused on gratitude. Something that’s very simple for all of us to put into practice. It doesn’t take a lot of time for us to do that. If we do it over time, the results can be extremely beneficial. I hope you found value in this episode now. I’m grateful that you’ve stayed with me until the end to explore this. My challenge is to find ways on a daily basis to practice gratitude. Do it for a month and see where you end up. I promise you’ll be in a better place. Until our next episode, go out and rise above your best. Peace.
- Lauren Locklear
- 21-Day Happiness Challenge
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team