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The Remarkable Power of Gratitude

The remarkable power of gratitude is engaging people where they are, post-pandemic.

Written by: Dan Bigman and Dale Buss

For more than 20 years, Chester Elton and his co-author Adrian Gostick have been studying and writing about corporate culture while coaching thousands of CEOs at businesses large, medium and small. Across all of this, they’ve stumbled upon a single constant among all the top performers, one that might not be what you’d expect.

“As we studied the best teams, the best leaders, the best cultures, there was always this thread of gratitude—always,” he says. “And so it became very apparent that it wasn’t a nice-to-have if you were to be a great leader. It was an absolute must-have.”

That insight led to their book Leading with Gratitude (Harper Business, March 2020), which was—in a stroke of unbelievably good or bad timing, depending on your perspective—published just as Covid hit the U.S. last year.

While showing gratitude has always been important for leaders, says Elton, in this post-Covid era it may be the most essential thing you can do right now—for very pragmatic reasons. In the ever-tighter talent market CEOs are now facing, hanging on to great people is everything. And when it comes to retention, says Elton, gratitude is the most powerful tool available—far more so than money.

“You don’t leave people who love you,” he says. “The number one reason people leave a job is the relationship with their immediate supervisor. If you want turnover, don’t use gratitude. If you want people to stay, let them know that they matter.”

For executives facing down the rest of 2021 and looking into 2022 and beyond, the battle for great people is the whole ballgame. In survey after survey by Chief Executive and our sister publications Corporate Board Member and StrategicCFO360, the race to grab or retain key people is cited as the most important challenge the nation’s business leaders say they are facing.

Meanwhile, what younger workers are looking for in an employer is changing. Cliché or not, they want employers who give them a sense of purpose—or whose purpose aligns with their own. They want to understand why they are doing what they do, and why it matters. And they want to matter to their employers.

“The data is very strong,” says Dr. Bob Nelson, who has studied the psychology of gratitude and recognition in the workplace for decades. “If you have a culture of recognition, research finds that your employees will feel five times more likely to be valued than if the culture was not a strong culture of recognition. They’ll be six times more likely to recommend the organization as a great place to work. They’d be seven times more likely to stay with the organization for their career, if possible—which is huge. And then they’ll be 11 times more likely to feel completely committed to their job, their manager, the mission of the organization. So just some huge, huge benefits from doing this soft, fuzzy notion of an idea.

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