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6 Effective (and Affordable) Ways to Improve Morale and Motivation

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If you’re like most Americans, you just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones. Chances are, you probably participated in the annual ritual of listing the things for which you’re grateful. For most of us, that includes our family, our friends, our homes, and our possessions, for example. We might also list our jobs—after all, they allow us to put food on the table.

But does your organization inspire its employees to add anything else to that gratitude list? Are your people thankful for each other, for their leaders, and for the actual work they do? If not (and odds are, that’s the case), you’re also risking low morale, a negative culture, and less-than-optimal productivity.

“If your organization hasn’t made a conscious effort to instill an ‘attitude of gratitude’ into your organization, you’re ignoring one of your most useful and lucrative tools,” says Todd Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. “The good news is, there’s no better time than right now at Thanksgiving to start showing your employees or coworkers that you appreciate their efforts and care about them as individuals.”

“In so many organizations, employees go through their days assuming that their coworkers, and especially their bosses, don’t notice or appreciate all of the hard work that they do,” Patkin explains. “And if that’s the way you feel, you will just go through the motions. You won’t have any true motivation or dedication, and your productivity will be mediocre at best.”

In the midst of an already-tough economy, Patkin points out, this is the absolute last thing you want for your organization. In a very real way, he insists, tapping into the spirit of Thanksgiving can tip the balance between success and growth or stagnation and failure.

“Meaningful workplace gratitude is easiest to spark when it comes from leaders, but eventually that attitude will start to also spread between employees; from there, it’ll even trickle down to customers. All of that is great for business. In other words, gratitude is a motivator and catalyst for growth that money can’t buy.”

Read on for Patkin’s how-to tips:

Always say “thank you.” If you have a job that allows you to twiddle your thumbs, you’re definitely in the minority. Most of us have a deskful of things that should have been done yesterday, and it’s easy to use the excuse that we don’t have time to hand out compliments and thanks like candy. According to Patkin, though, there’s no better way to use your time. By taking just thirty seconds longer to get back to your office, you have improved another person’s mood, day, and productivity level. You’ll also be making yourself more approachable and likeable, and over time your team will begin to relate to you more positively.

“Always, always recognize it when someone does something well or does something nice for you,” Patkin advises. “No one ever gets tired of hearing compliments about themselves; in fact, I have found that consistent and heartfelt recognition—when it is deserved, of course—is a better long-term motivator than money. Even something as small as ‘Thanks for always showing up on time’ can make someone feel great all day long.

Take intent into account. The fact is, when you’re in a position to make a grand gesture of gratitude, your intentions may be consistently good…but your plans might not always be as successful as you’d hoped. Patkin recalls that as he tried to show his employees just how much he appreciated them, he came up with many show-the-love schemes. He would send high achievers to sports games, highlight various employees in company newsletters, plan lavish company parties, and hold raffles, to name a few examples. Sometimes those plans were well received; other times they weren’t.

“Inevitably, there will always be someone who says, ‘I wish the boss had sent me to a concert instead of to an NBA game,’ or, ‘Gosh, the food at this party tastes horrible,’” Patkin says. “On a smaller scale, maybe no one eats the cookies you baked and set out in the break room. Remember, these people are selfishly (or maybe even unwittingly) overlooking the thank-you gesture’s intent. I’m bringing this up because you need to remember that despite negative feedback, showing gratitude is always the right thing…and the majority of non-complainers probably loved your gesture. And also, if the shoe is on the other foot and an expression of gratitude that’s aimed at you misses the mark, say thank you for the thought and go on about your day.”

Start being more open. In your average office, communication is far from completely open. No one wants to bug the boss unnecessarily or meddle in a coworker’s projects (unless, perhaps, that person’s intent is negative). This sort of “keep-to-yourself” culture doesn’t tend to foster total understanding or genuine gratitude. Think about it this way: If a leader is dissatisfied with an employee’s performance, that employee will probably sense that he’s not highly appreciated, and he’ll have no reason to work any harder than necessary. The leader’s bad opinion of the employee will continue and grow worse, further eroding the employee’s motivation. It’s a negative cycle, but according to Patkin, it can be easily broken with a little openness and honesty.

“If you’re a leader, constructively tell your people how they can improve their performances,” he says. “If you’re a team member, be proactive about asking your coworkers and boss how you’re doing and how you can get better at your job. And no matter where you fall on your company’s hierarchy, learn how to receive constructive criticism. I have seen this at all levels—if you don’t accept advice and requests well, you’ll stop getting them and you’ll stop improving…and you’ll essentially be stuck right where you are. However, when everyone is committed to openness and to sparking growth, there will be more improvements, more success, and more opportunities to show genuine gratitude. Plus, showing others that you care enough to either help them or to improve yourself is a form of gratitude in and of itself, because you’re demonstrating that your team is worth the investment of your time, energy, and advice.”

Learn to graciously accept thanks. Yes, giving thanks is a very important building block when it comes to cultivating a gratitude culture in your organization. But it’s not the only one. As Patkin has alluded to before, how you respond to appreciation is also important. If you brush off compliments or ignore expressions of gratitude—even if it’s because you’d rather stay out of the spotlight—you’ll eventually stop hearing “thanks!” altogether, and you’ll be discouraging the person complimenting you from reaching out to others in the same way.

Keep the gratitude going outside of your organization. Once you notice that those two important words—thank you—are being uttered on a regular basis in your office, make an effort to extend them outside of the people on your payroll. Thank your customers or the people you serve for choosing your organization, and for trusting your team with their money, health, products, or publicity, to name a few examples. This is something that many clients don’t hear, so when they do, their loyalty to your company is strengthened.

“Just as employees respond well to gratitude, so do customers and clients,” Patkin confirms. “A simple ‘Thank you for your business’ is easy and free, and there’s no excuse not to make use of this tool. You might also consider offering discounts, coupons, or promotions to show customer appreciation. Especially in a tough economy, it’s vital to let those whom you serve know how much they mean to you so that they don’t take their business elsewhere.”

Use gratitude to reinforce stellar performances. No, your employees and/or coworkers are not pets. Remember, though, that just as a Labrador Retriever will learn to repeat or refrain from a behavior because she is given a treat, a worker will do the same thing based on his boss’s feedback. Using gratitude to shape your team’s habits and priorities can be every bit as valuable as training programs and industry conferences…at a fraction of the time and cost.

“Whenever I saw an employee going out of her way to make sure that the product a client purchased was the best possible value, I thanked her for doing it,” Patkin recalls. “If a store manager made a mistake and came clean to me about it, I thanked him for that, too. Never forget that whatever you acknowledge positively will be repeated.”

For more information, visit www.findinghappinessthebook.com.

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