Whether working from home or the office, we all want to work with a team where people get along. Yet the workplace is sometimes a place of gossip, exclusion and bullying. Dealing with those behaviors from colleagues been shown to make us so unhappy with our jobs, it can impact our health. And that’s in addition to the loss of productivity. But finding a solution to office politics is not easy. Now, new research finds that writing in a gratitude journal can lead to less rudeness and mistreatment in the workplace.
Gratitude has well-established benefits.
Gratitude has been a hot topic for researchers lately. Studies have shown that grateful people are better at finding perspective. They are also more agreeable to be around and show greater openness to ideas. Grateful people also behave in prosocial ways. Further, gratitude has been tied to lower rates of burnout, greater happiness and a greater feeling of social support.
The evidence in favor of gratitude has led researchers to wonder if gratitude practices could help in the workplace. In one study, employees were divided into two groups, one of which completed two short exercises expressing what they were grateful for at work and in life. The study reported that the team who performed the gratitude exercise were more positive and felt like more of a community at work.
Beyond this, people want to work in a culture where they feel personally appreciated. That is a desire that is likely to go unmet in an American work culture where, in one recent study, only 30% of people thank their coworkers several times a week. The study also noted that only 20% of people thank their boss several times a week. It’s an eye-opening question. How many of us even think to thank a boss?
All of this points to why recent research has also shown that being jerk doesn’t help you get ahead at work. Despite our myths about the tough succeeding, people want to be thanked for the work they do.
So gratitude can increase some positive things in the workplace, but does it do anything to decrease negative behaviors? According to researchers at University of Central Florida, the answer is yes.
Gratitude journals decrease negative behavior at work.
For this study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers asked participants to spend a few minutes each day writing down what they were grateful for. This could include people, things or events. And the result was that their coworkers reported that they gossiped less. They were also participated in less rudeness and in less behaviors that excluded others.
“Gratitude exercises are becoming increasingly popular products to improve employee attitudes and well-being, and our study shows managers can also use them to foster more respectful behavior in their teams,” said management professor and co-author of the study Shannon Taylor in a press release.
Gratitude exercises are “designed to increase your focus on the positive things in your life,” he explained. “That simple action can change your outlook, your approach to work, and the way your co-workers see you.”
And that’s also good news for managers who want to build a positive culture. Doctoral student study co-author Lauren Locklear pointed out in the same press release that organizations spend a lot of time money on attempts to “improve” employee behavior. “There are not a lot of known tools available to actually make the needed changes,” she said. “We found the gratitude journal is a simple, inexpensive intervention that can have a significant impact on changing employee behavior for the better.”
That sounds great, if organizations apply gratitude at work wisely. Like other burnout reduction strategies, it’s easy to anticipate these becoming the new version of dreaded wellness modules thrown at harried employees. In healthy workplaces, gratitude sounds like a wonderful addition to culture. But in organizations with structural factors that drive burnout, asking employees to be grateful without addressing the deeper issues could embitter them.