In an article featured in The Weekend Australian, Michelle talks about how leaders can improve workplace well being, with a little practice.
When organisations analyse their culture and determine their values, gratitude isn’t a trait that is likely to appear — yet increasingly it is considered to be critical for wellbeing and success.
The 2017 Beyond Blue State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report painted a bleak picture of Australian workplaces. One in five Australians (21 per cent) took time off work in the previous 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.
Practising gratitude in the workplace isn’t about ignoring emotions or feelings of stress, sadness or hurt. It’s about equipping leaders and employees with the strategies and mechanisms to cope with challenges and change so that, rather than letting a situation overwhelm or consume their every waking thought, they can progress through it.
Research from the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California, Berkeley found that one of the keys to wellbeing is practising gratitude. Gratitude has been found to increase happiness levels, increase positive emotions, improve relationships, increase a person’s resilience to stressful events and reduce the risk of depression.
American psychologist Martin Seligman changed much of the conventional thinking about happiness, optimism and treating depression. His research shows that optimism is a trait that can be learned.
“Optimistic people generally feel that good things will last a long time and will have a beneficial effect on everything they do,” he says.
“And they think that bad things are isolated: they won’t last too long and won’t affect other parts of life.”
In his work with the US Army helping returning soldiers deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, Seligman demonstrated that providing resilience and positive psychology training lowered rates of PTSD, substance abuse and depression.
A key element in doing this is cultivating a daily practice of gratitude, which helps to rewire the brain. It is a simple practice whereby at the end of each day a person writes down three things that went well and why.
Leaders can adapt this practice to the workplace. As part of team meetings, build in reflective activities where the team focuses on where they have made progress and why. Encourage your team to take a moment at the end of each day to reflect and write down what went well and why. This doesn’t have to be a big achievement. It can be as simple as: “I had a great client meeting”, “The trains ran on time today” or “I completed a key task”.
Establish core rituals where team members are encouraged to focus on what they can do for others. When a person does something nice for someone else it makes them feel good, helping them realise the positive forces they have in their life and being grateful for that. Cultivate an environment where relationships matter and, as a leader, devote time to important relationships every day. Ring people. Have a coffee with them. Make the connection personal. People who are happy and grateful have strong connections to the community, colleagues and good friends.
Practising gratitude isn’t a one-off activity. For best results, it’s something leaders and team members focus on each day.