Complaining is easy, but corrosive to workplace morale, project outcomes, and employee longevity--gratitude on campus is important.

Cultivating a workplace culture of gratitude


Complaining is easy, but corrosive to workplace morale, project outcomes, and employee longevity

Key points:

This month we celebrated Thanksgiving, a day our culture sets aside to reflect on all that we’ve been given. The smells of roasting turkey and the tang of cranberry sauce are enveloped with a sense of goodwill and gratitude as we recognize how fortunate we are. While blessings in our personal life spring to mind first, our inventory of gifts can—and should—extend to the workplace.

Far too often, work becomes a space of grumbling, not gratitude. Employees love to complain. Grousing about the boss is a competitive sport in some workplaces. Complaining is easy, but corrosive to workplace morale, project outcomes, and employee longevity.

Forging a path to gratitude can take intentionality, but has a direct impact on our quality of life. Thankfulness centers us, reminding us of our values and connections. Dissatisfaction saps our energy. Gratitude fuels us, energizing us for the work before us. We have four ways that you can cultivate a culture of thankfulness in the office, reaping benefits for yourself, your staff, and the productivity and future of your institution.

Say thank you

This is so basic that you may think that it goes without saying. The trouble is, it often does. How many times have you assumed that someone knew how much you appreciate them? Stress presses in on our work life. Hearing from a colleague that they appreciate you is profound and catching. How would it transform your workplace if you thanked one person a day for their contribution to your organization? Be mindful to include not only gratitude for specific actions, but also say thank you for the attitude and outlook colleagues bring to their work. Sometimes the unprompted “thank you” that comes to us out of the blue means the most.

Celebrate together

In our productivity-centric culture, we can become so focused on accomplishing the next thing (and the next thing) that we never stop to celebrate. We must not move onto a new challenge without pausing to honor our accomplishments. Gather as a team to toast the milestone.

Significant achievements should have intentional celebration. For smaller projects, something as simple yet sincere as an impromptu celebration in the office allows for connection and appreciation. Not only will celebrating together foster gratitude and strengthen relationships, it will energize you for whatever you tackle next.

Build in recognition

Create regular shared moments to call out the good you see in others. Start meetings with shout outs. Devote one wall to a brag-board where employees can boast about the good they see in their colleagues. Include staff recognition in your newsletters. The more you create habits of recognition, the more it will become a natural part of your workplace. Facilitate opportunities for recognition at all levels of your institution. Leadership should set a tone and example by appreciating staff members and peer-to-peer recognition should also be encouraged. A successful culture of gratitude saturates a workplace from the executive suite to the receptionist’s desk, from the boardroom to the custodial closet.

Reflect and reach out

A culture of gratitude must not just be horizontal in your current team, but must transcend departments and stages of career. Who has helped you get to where you are now in your career? What other departments support and collaborate with your staff? Who are the community organizations that enrich your campus and your region? Personally express your gratitude through one handwritten note per week. Publicly thank other stakeholders and partners on social media and in your communications.

Higher education has an advantage over other workplaces when it comes to creating space for gratitude to thrive. The academic year is cyclical, with an ebb and flow of semesters punctuated with breaks. The contours of the school year create rhythms which can drive patterns that support positive culture. The Thanksgiving holiday comes with some added margin to consider the ways we’ve been fortunate and to express those to others. Commit yourself to investing in the culture of your organization through engaged and uplifting practices that will improve your mental health, your team cohesion, and your deliverables.

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