The Antidote to the Toxic Workplace

Gratitude: “Thank you. I appreciate that.” Sounds simple. And it is.

leadership development, positive leadership, leadership skills, leadership styles

Gratitude in the workplace is important because it has been linked with positive outcomes, such as improved mood and increased helping behavior. It has a proven direct effect on the organizational climate. One study demonstrated that increasing your awareness of things to appreciate resulted in greater optimism, alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). We could all use that!

Reducing the Negative

But even more importantly, a published study found that expressing gratitude inhibited people from engaging in destructive interpersonal behavior (Baron, 1984). Gratitude can reduce defensiveness and boost the ability to adapt and cope with stress (Solomon & Flores, 2001). Expressing gratitude has also been found to lower toxic emotions in the workplace, such as resentment, anger, disappointment, and envy. Absenteeism, sabotage, theft, and other deviant workplace behaviors are often the result of resentment and envy (Seabright & Schminke, 2002). So the cultivation of gratitude might offset the destructiveness of some of these undesirable behaviors.

Focus on the Positive

The decision to focus on what is positive in the workplace, rather than what is lacking, is in line with the Appreciative Inquiry movement, which has gained momentum in recent years. It requires effort to deliberately notice, anticipate, and emphasize the positive. Without intentional effort to focus on the positive, negative factors will receive much more attention in your organization.

Positive leaders are unique in that they choose to express gratitude, even in the face of difficulty. Leaders have to solve problems and can’t ignore obstacles, but you should strive to counter the tendency toward the negative with an abundance of positivity. In the absence of this emphasis, the negative can overwhelm the positive and become the norm. A ratio of 5 positive statements for every 1 negative statement has been found to predict the highest levels of performance on workplace teams (Cameron, 2008).

At your next staff meeting, have someone you trust keep track of your comment ratio. How often are you expressing gratitude or appreciation? Are you being too pessimistic? Begin to replace negative and critical language with affirmative and supportive language to foster a more positive work climate. 

positive leadership, toxic leadership, leadership development, leadership styles, leadership skills

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Baron, R.A. (1984). Reducing organizational conflict: An incompatible response approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69, 272-279.
Cameron, K. (2008). Positive Leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Seabright, M.A., & Schminke, M. (2002). Immoral imagination and revenge in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 38, 19-31.
Solomon, R.C., & Flores, F. (2001). Building trust in business, politics, relationships, and life. New York: Oxford Press.



One Comment

  1. Susan Baker says:

    Please don’t fall into gratuitous “thank you” and “good job” habits, find the genuine-ness for your response. Try and not let “I really appreciate what you did” become “have a blessed day”.

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