Making the Business Case
Gratitude is not typically perceived as a business practice. For many leaders, gratitude is viewed more as a social nicety than a powerful tool for improving organizational performance. And yet, gratitude and profit are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the evidence would suggest that when gratitude goes up in the workplace, so does engagement.
A report by Gallup showed that if companies improve the amount of workplace gratitude, they could see an increase in quality in work and a reduction in absenteeism. And a study reported by the Harvard Medical School and conducted by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that employees who heard expressions of gratitude before doing work made 50% more progress on their goals.
According to leading gratitude researcher, Richard Emmons of UC Davis, gratitude may be one of the most overlooked employee performance tools at our disposal. And in a whitepaper published by the Dale Carnegie Institute, the researchers called “showing appreciation” the number one blind spot for most leaders—and the greatest opportunity for improving engagement and organizational performance.
Workplace recognition motivates employees, gives them a sense of accomplishment, and makes them feel appreciated for their work. It builds trust, increases emotional resilience, fosters cooperation, and decreases toxic emotions like envy and materialism. Studies have found that using methods to foster gratitude are effective at resolving team conflicts and encouraging contagious chains of helpful behavior. And as I mentioned earlier, it may be the top leadership blind spot and potentially the most efficient way for leaders to improve employee performance. Preliminary results are showing the potential for tremendous returns in high performance.
Gratitude: a case study.
Take the case of Southwest Airlines—named #13 Employer by Forbes magazine. During times when other companies have needed to reduce customer and employee perks to cut costs, Southwest Airlines increased their number of customer and employee appreciation programs. By bucking industry trends, they were able to maintain profits and growth for over thirty years through some challenging economic downturns.
Some of the programs that helped Southwest Airlines show gratitude for their people are:
- CoHearts, a mentorship program required for all new supervisors.
- Heros of the Heart, an awards program for those who go above and beyond behind the scenes.
- Gratitude Swag, a points program where employees earn travel points for expressing gratitude to coworkers.
- Walk-a-Mile, a program that promotes workplace empathy by letting coworkers spend a day doing work in different roles.
- LUV Report, a recognition program where employees fill out the report when they had a story about exceptional service to share.
- Boner of the Year, an awards program that honors employees’ biggest mistakes of the year.
All these initiatives have fostered employee loyalty and engagement at Southwest Airlines, which many believe has given the company an advantage during economic uncertainty. The company’s success showcases just how profitable and valuable developing a culture of gratitude can be for every organization. It reminds us that gratitude is both a virtue and a powerful tool for improving engagement and organizational performance.
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