The ubiquity of negative news is not a coincidence; journalists and news channels are deliberately exploiting a collective psychological weakness—something more formally known as the negativity bias.
It's true, to a degree, we are all hardwired towards negative thinking. Psychological studies reveal that negative stimuli have a more significant impact on our attention and energy than positive stimuli.
In other words, even when positive things DO happen, we tend to downplay the positive and focus on the negative instead.
One thing is unquestionably clear...
Constant exposure to negativity has profound consequences.
Continuous negativity produces a toxic mindset. Fueled by feelings of cynicism, distrust, and fear. These strong emotions further drive people and groups to isolate themselves. Ultimately, pulling people apart and disconnecting us from one another. Look no further than our current social and cultural climate as evidence of this phenomenon.
Now, let's back up a bit and tie this idea to work.
Think about how the negativity bias would play out on a smaller scale, at work or in any organization. It would undoubtedly have the same impact on people's attitudes and feelings about their work.
When negativity begins to colour our perception of the world, it can be a tough mindset to break.
Thankfully, psychological research has found a simple and highly effective antidote to the negativity bias: Gratitude
Gratitude shatters the lens of negativity.
It’s simple: Intentionally choose to focus on positives instead of the negatives. Choose gratitude by recognizing the intentions and efforts of others. This naturally mitigates feelings of distrust and contempt.
Many psychological studies prove the power of gratitude across contexts.
A 2017 study published in Frontiers of Psychology showed a strong positive connection between the expression of gratitude at work and “employee efficiency, success, and productivity.”
Another fascinating study looked at the role of gratitude in personal partnerships and found that when partners focused on being grateful for each other’s kind acts (instead of focusing on what their partner didn’t do) both parties felt more connected and satisfied with their relationship overall than they did following days when they felt less grateful. The same effect would likely be found in professional partnerships as well.
We see clearly see the presence of gratitude has an obvious positive effect on all types of relationships across all contexts. Interestingly, a lack of gratitude has an effect on organizations as well.
One 2012 study by the American Psychological Association found that more than half of all employees surveyed intended to search for a new job for a simple reason: They felt under-appreciated in the workplace.
In summary: Regularly expressing gratitude in the workplace serves as a powerful way to promote stronger social bonds between individuals and on work teams, ultimately boosting employee engagement.
You might be wondering how gratitude can fit into everyday life in the modern workplace?
For most of history, the relationships between employees and employers were considered transactional in nature. The workplace is supposed to be free of emotion, right?
This statement couldn’t be more inaccurate in current times.
Modern workers no longer go to work to only receive a paycheck; they look to their careers for respect, for a sense of accomplishment, for a feeling of purpose. Gratitude and appreciation are critical in building this type of meaningful workplace.
Ultimately, if an organization’s goal is to intrinsically motivate employees to go above and beyond and become a long-term member—of not only a team—but a culture, cultivating an environment that provides employees with more than just a paycheck is necessary.
Weaving gratitude into daily life at work takes consistency and effort.
For naturally empathetic people, recognizing others may come more easily. For others, expressing appreciation can feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, if not downright awkward.
Discomfort expressing gratitude in a professional context is a real issue that is supported by research.
In a study published in The Journal Of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that 35% of respondents believed that expressing gratitude at work could lead coworkers to take advantage of them.
When your workforce holds these unhealthy beliefs, breaking a cycle of toxic distrust and negativity can be extremely challenging.
The remainder of this article is dedicated to actionable tips that will help mitigate these harmful feelings and attitudes at work.
The end goal is to establish an engaged and pro-social workplace that energizes employees, making work a place where people are actually happy and excited to come to in the morning.
Cultivating a positive environment of gratitude starts at the very top of each layer of the organization.
The lesson for HR here might be to hire leaders that already show natural ease with empathy and compassion — two highly important traits of successful leaders.
People who are already in positions of leadership should be taking the first step towards expression appreciation and gratitude. Those around them will naturally follow suit. Observing people in positions of power expressing appreciation, individuals who are less comfortable with being open will grow to see this behaviour as something to admire, rather than a weakness.
Spontaneous praise and recognition are the most sincere.
If an employee is recognized and appreciated only during formal evaluation or even in a robotic way at the same time at the end of each day, it will progressively lose its meaning, and eventually, feel completely insincere. And empty praise is worse than no praise at all.
The trick to giving genuine, sincere gratitude is to do it consistently, but at different times and for various reasons. You don’t need to praise every day to cultivate a positive work environment. Just do it regularly. And if everyone is contributing to the same degree, the impact will be noticeable daily.
Cultivating a positive and engaging environment begins with expressing gratitude beyond what people do at your company.
In short, workers should be appreciated for more than accomplishing their day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, focus on expressing gratitude for their unique insights, skills, contributions, and also for their personality.
Expressing gratitude for someone’s “soft” skills like their contagious positive attitude and sense of humour, or keen ability to think critically, is a great way to ensure gratitude is sincere and genuine.
This tip is not about what you say, but how you’re saying it. You can give praise publicly, privately, over email, chat, face-to-face, or in a group meeting.
In short, there are countless ways to give praise. So make sure to express gratitude and appreciation in a way (and via a medium) that will respect and resonate with each employee.
Expressing gratitude shouldn’t be limited to a small group of people. It's not a popularity contest.
To avoid this, express gratitude for different types of actions and accomplishments. And express gratitude to individuals who occupy less visible (but critical) roles in a company as well.
It’s easy to show appreciation for a developer that pushes a new feature, but what about the people behind the scenes? Those who stay late organizing social events, or the staff in the warehouse, or IT support that sets up all the systems that allow people to actually do their work every day.
For a culture of appreciation and gratitude to truly flourish, express gratitude to everyone, for actions big and small.