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A way to improve workplace stress

| October 4, 2022

by Joseph Nasal

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Joe Nasal, Group Lead for Project Management, ESnet, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California. It is a reflection on what he is learning as a second-time MOR program participant.  Joe may be reached at [email protected].]

I’m currently participating in my second MOR experience since 2016.  A different organization this time through, and a different cohort.   2016 seems like another lifetime, reflecting upon all of the change that’s happened in the past few years.  “Upheaval” comes to mind.  Yet, perseverance has been key to surviving and thriving through these sometimes difficult transitions.  We’ve each had to persist on the path of our own personal journey despite the difficulties, delays, and course-corrections that have defined this time.   And yet, here we are.   Each of us using our gifts and talents to help drive forward the missions of our respective organizations.  The world needs us to perform as leaders, now more than ever.  It’s a beautiful time to be alive and contributing, and for this I’m thankful.

Expressions of gratitude are important markers of emotional intelligence.  As I pause to reflect in quiet moments, and as a part of my daily practice, I’m aware that I have much to be thankful for despite the difficult times.  I’m thankful for contentment that comes from peace and calm, the satisfaction of good work accomplished, the joy of family and friends.

Researchers at UC San Diego reported in June that expressions of gratitude are important in the workplace as well.  As leaders who practice and model emotional intelligence this idea resonates with us intuitively.  Gratitude is good.  It makes us feel good to be on both the sending and receiving side of a thankful practice in recognizing our colleagues for who they are, what they do, and what they mean to us.  However, the UC study goes further: expressions of gratitude at work promote a better overall stress response and can have long-term health benefits.

Yes, you read that correctly: expressing gratitude at work can make us healthier.

In the UC study, a brief one or two-minute expression of gratitude between colleagues facilitated higher overall performance relative to difficult tasks.  This was measured as an improvement to an individual’s cardiovascular response: the heart pumps more blood, vasculature dilates, oxygenated blood gets to the brain and body’s periphery, and cognition proceeds optimally.

When we express gratitude to each other at work we feel better overall.  Our cardiovascular response is better, and our heart works optimally.  And as a result, we perform better.

Intuitively this also makes sense to us as emotionally intelligent leaders.  And now, thanks to the UC study, we have the data to back up what we know deeply to be true.  Here’s a way to improve workplace stress, and it doesn’t cost a dime:  Develop your capacity for expressions of gratitude and you and your colleagues will be healthier and perform better. 

Recognize the power in a simple statement of gratitude before your team endeavors to do something difficult.  Demonstrate thanks in recognition of work which aligns with your organization’s strategic vision.  Recognize that people are more than the talents they bring to the workplace and provide open, safe spaces for self expression.  Exercise emotional intelligence in providing your direct, undivided attention to those you lead, a practice which is critically important in this transformational era of remote work. 

During a recent exercise with my MOR cohort a colleague noted that emotional intelligence is important in not only improving one’s own self management but also in directing our outward perception and how we view others.  As Jim Dezieck indicates, “It allows us to see clearly.”  There’s a direct line from: “Open, Balanced, and Neutral” to: “Open, Balanced, Neutral, and Grateful.”

So, express some gratitude today.  Treat your colleagues and your organization to a practice which will improve performance, make people healthier, and which will cost you nothing more than an exercise in emotional intelligence.  Finally, begin this practice with yourself.  Take a moment to express gratitude to yourself for all that you do, and all that you’ve accomplished in these difficult times.  You have persevered, survived, thrived, and emerged stronger, ready to lead.  This is truly something for which to be thankful.

Joe is thankful to Leslie, Jim, and Peggy for helping him grow as a person and a leader.


This Week’s Survey

How do you express gratitude in the workplace?

From Last Week

Last week we asked: When enabling the success of others, what brings you the most joy?

  • 28% said helping them discover their strengths.
  • 23% said elevating others to center stage.
  • 19% said helping them to learn something they didn’t know.
  • 18% said removing obstacles.
  • 12% said recognizing achievements.

An interesting theme in this week’s results is that some of our greatest joys are in helping to discover the greatness in others, whether that be someone fully realizing their own strengths, or helping others to see those strengths as well.  And as we saw in this week’s reading, that gratitude we show for the strengths of others benefits us as well.  What can you do this week to help people discover the best in themselves?  You’ll be helping them, your organization, and yourself.