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Thanksgiving Day – A Time for Expressing Gratitude

| November 21, 2023

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Jim Bruce, Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.  Jim may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Two days from today is a day designed as Thanksgiving Day by Act of the U.S. Congress. This holiday began when the Mayflower Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag ate together in 1621 at the end of the harvest.  It was likely not a very big deal, a routine English harvest celebration. What was the big deal, though less remembered, was the peace treaty, signed seven months earlier, that formed the peaceful relationship between the new settlers and the Wampanoag that lasted for 50 years.

Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Before 1941, Thanksgiving was not a fixed date on the calendar but whenever the President proclaimed it to be. President George Washington was the first to issue a proclamation for the holiday in 1789, designating Thursday, November 26, “for the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving.” This proclamation marked the first national celebration of the holiday under the new Constitution.

Over these intervening years, this nation has annually celebrated Thanksgiving in many ways. There have been church services on Thanksgiving mornings, informal public gatherings, and family dinners, as my family will hold that day. Unfortunately, many of us have permitted these celebrations to be hijacked by football games and the arrival of the Christmas shopping season.

Key in any Thanksgiving celebration is the concept of gratitude for all we have been provided.   Although I didn’t appreciate the word “gratitude” then, I remember how happy I was when my grandfather gave me a penny to buy a piece of candy at the local store we had just walked to.    (That would have been in the early 1940s when a penny was real money, worth something.)   Robert Emmons, University of California, Davis psychologist and author on gratitude, says, “Feeling gratitude starts with the realization of what we have received from others and what it has cost them.”

One of the most important places to express gratitude is in the workplace. In “The Importance of Gratitude at Work,” Nicole Kemp writes, “When our batteries are constantly being drained at work, we start to slow down – and if they never get charged, we’ll eventually turn off altogether. Sometimes, a simple gesture of gratitude or a sincere thank you for your efforts can give us the boost we need.”

Research in the Harvard Business Review indicates that gratitude improves well-being, reduces stress, and builds resilience. People are more willing to help others who have shown them gratitude. Kemp suggests several ways to show your appreciation to colleagues and direct reports:

  1. Express your appreciation directly, even making a special trip to the individual’s workspace (if you work together in-person). This doesn’t require a lengthy “speech,” just a quick comment along the lines of “I appreciated our interaction yesterday,” or “I found your comments in the meeting yesterday particularly helpful, because . …”. Taking the effort to find the individual and have a conversation amplifies the value of the comment. Significantly.
  2. Have a telephone conversation with the individual.
  3. Send a handwritten note.  One company I once worked with gave cards with a rainbow and the phrase “You Made My Day” for individuals to write a note to a colleague they wanted to congratulate. These often ended up posted on the wall above the individual’s desk.
  4. Send an email or a text. Less direct and impactful but important and appreciated.
  5. Some organizations use an app like 15Five to collect comments of gratitude and recognition.

What’s most important is showing sincere appreciation, whether from a colleague to a peer, from a manager to a staff member, or from a staff member to a manager.  

Heidi Grant, a social psychologist, also recommends keeping your “thank yous” and gratitude focused on the individual you praise. Too often, we begin to slip and end up focusing part of the conversation on what we might have done.

The employee-manager relationship is critical to the employee experience and the top driver of engagement. So, the employee must hear from their manager that they are appreciated.

Everyone is pressed for time, and it is very easy to forget to say “thank you” or other words of appreciation. Perhaps you might take a few minutes at the end of each day to list those individuals you want to thank and keywords to help you remember what you plan to say. Then, when you come in the following day, plan how you will act on the list, whether it’s writing a note, dropping by a desk, etc., and integrate these actions into your day.

Just remember, take action.  

On behalf of MOR Associates, we hope that you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  .  .  .  .  .     jim