Steve Foran, a grateful CEO, founded Gratitude at Work in 2007 based in his own personal transformation with gratitude and knowing that the world needs more gratefulness. His organization establishes a happiness strategy that integrates the principles of gratitude into organizations and oversees its implementation. He has been on the leading edge of gratitude-based research, writing, and teaching for more than fifteen years. His science-based program helps build a culture of gratitude in the workplace and is a simple, yet innovative approach to business growth.
Steve’s new book, Surviving to Thriving: The 10 Laws of Grateful Leadership, will be published in Fall 2018.
Stacey: How did your organization, Gratitude at Work, come about?
Steve: I grew up the oldest of five children so responsibility was a big value of mine. I was always a very positive person but was judgmental. If I saw someone on the street, I’d think to myself, “Get a job. Look how hard I’ve worked.” I believed that my successes, however big or small, were all because of me. I was a self-made man.
About 15 years ago or so, I had the realization that my life was handed to me on a silver plater. This revelation did not happen because of a tragic experience, nor from traveling to a developing country. It was like a flash of insight into the obvious as I recognized that my success was dependent on my upbringing, my teachers, people who had died for the freedom I enjoy and the list went on. Understanding that my life was a gift, brought an overwhelming sense of gratitude into my heart. At the time, I was in graduate school so I decided to do my research around gratitude. I then convinced my wife that I should end my career as an electrical engineer and do something with this knowledge. That’s when I started Gratitude at Work.
Stacey: What are the benefits of building a culture of gratitude in an organization?
Steve: Bottom line is that people are going to love coming to work. For your leadership team, people that embrace gratitude at work will be thriving leaders and they will lead thriving teams. The research out there has found that people will also be more productive.
Stacey: How do you teach gratitude in the workplace? Can you name some tools you use?
Steve: First, we make the people in the organization aware of the why – why do we want to bring more gratitude to work? This is common sense but if you look at the empirical evidence, work is the least likely place to practice gratitude, yet people are craving it. Second, we teach four simple habits. They include making a list of what you’re grateful for, listening to what others are grateful for, sharing what you are grateful for with others and broadly expressing gratitude by saying thank you. This expression includes smiling, spending time, or literally saying “thank you.” We then work with leadership to help them shape how these habits can show up in a unique, genuine and customized way within their particular organization.
A common practice among clients is for everyone to share what they are grateful for at the start of a meeting. It sets a different tone for everything that happens afterward in the meeting.
Stacey: I think it sets the tone for the day by thinking in a positive way instead of thinking about all that’s negative with the job.
Steve: If I’m having a bad day, and I hear six other people in the room tell me what they are grateful for, it helps me reframe the chaos and the crap that’s happening in my life. It lifts me up when I need it most.
Stacey: What does a grateful organization look like? How would managers and employees behave?
A grateful organization is a place where people enjoy spending time. A place that is purpose-driven. Employees and managers are thankful and appreciative of other people. They express that gratitude to each other, regardless if it is through a line of reporting or from one colleague to another. This doesn’t mean that there are no conflicts or challenges. For example, a challenge like a service delivery failure is negative but with a grateful frame of mind, gratitude uncovers the good in the learning and growth opportunity that prevents it from happening again.
Gratitude transforms a fear-based reactive mindset into a solution-oriented, growth mindset. It prompts us to engage in approach behaviors like curiosity, which is a catalyst for innovation.
Stacey: Why do you think so many people are unhappy in their jobs?
Steve: I wish I knew the answer to that. Gallup has been surveying employee engagement for over decades and it has remained virtually unchanged in that time. So the billions of dollars invested in increasing engagement among employees is a complete waste of time and money.
Stacey: Why is that?
Steve: I think it relates in large part to how we are wired as humans. We are hypersensitive to negativity. This negativity bias enabled us to survive when danger was all around in jungles and forests ― it actually helped the human species to evolve. However, that part of our brain has not caught up to 21st century society. We are still hypertensive to the negative, pushing us into a fear-based survival mode where our brains think there is not enough.
The second piece is the tendency for humans to adapt. For example, I am very happy when I get a pay raise but 3 months later, it’s no longer good enough and I want more. It’s no wonder that 70% of the workforce is disengaged because negativity bias and adaptability are always pushing us back into survival mode. So we teach the four gratitude habits to help people continually work on having a grateful frame of mind which helps against these unrelenting forces.
To aggravate things, look at popular culture encouraging us to believe and feel that we don’t have enough, that we’re not good enough and that we need more. And if this is our fundamental world view, boy it’s hard to be grateful. The good news is that gratitude is the antidote that inoculates us against the belief that we don’t have enough.
Most people have no idea that gratitude is the number one predictor of living a flourishing, thriving life.
Stacey: What has research shown us about how gratitude affects the workplace?
Steve: Research has found 81% of people would work harder for a more grateful boss. However, only 10% of people express gratitude at work on a daily basis. Sixty percent of people at work express gratitude two times a year or less. It’s amazing that we are least likely to express gratitude at work, yet it is where we crave it most. Still more research has shown that people who receive gratitude are 50% more productive. I think gratitude is a game-changer for organizations that embrace it. But here’s the caveat: It can’t be used just to shore up the bottom line. You must be genuinely interested in the dignity, happiness, and well-being of your people so they thrive. When that’s in place, the business will thrive.
Stacey: Your gratitude work is science-based. What has science discovered about gratitude?
Steve: Science is still evolving but has found that grateful people are healthier, happier, more optimistic, and more generous. They tend to exercise more, sleep more soundly and have greater resistance to viral infections. Physiological markers of heart disease and diabetes don’t show up as much in people who regularly practice gratitude. People with serious heart ailments who practice gratitude heal faster. Gratitude also insulates us from hopelessness, aging and depression. Studies show that gratitude can help us live longer.
For kids who practice gratitude, research shows that they are more socially connected; they do better in school and have fewer tummy aches.
Practicing gratitude is simple but the challenge can be that it’s not always easy because life happens. So, we provide the tools to individuals and organizations to make gratitude practices habitual and therefore, more natural.
Stacey: How does a manager’s ability to cultivate gratitude in the workplace make him or her a better leader?
Steve: Leaders can only cultivate gratitude in the people around them when they possess it themselves. Therefore, the challenge for leaders is to work on themselves, not because they are broken, but because they want to be the best versions of themselves. When we cultivate gratitude in ourselves, this naturally enables us to show up as a thriving leader. If I’m not thriving, I cannot lead a group of thriving people.
About Steve Foran
Learn more about Steve Foran and his organization, Gratitude at Work. You can sign-up on his website for “The Habit Course”, a science-based, easy to complete and simple step-by-step program.