Culture   //   November 24, 2023

Suffering a ‘post-Thanksgiving slump?’ — Showing gratitude can help

With bellies full, Black Friday shopping in the bag and the joy of a long weekend suddenly a distant memory, employees can be a bit slow to roll into the office after the holiday, even as they push to meet end-of-year deadlines.

Call it the “post-Thanksgiving slump.”

But research shows that not only do workers feel more thankful for each other at this time of the year, expressing that gratitude publicly has the power to energize them and even relieve stress.

Workhuman, a provider of human capital management software solutions, reported in its quarterly Human Workplace Index that 6 in 10 employees are more thankful for their colleagues at year’s end, while three-quarters say there’s a greater sense of gratitude and camaraderie in the workplace.

And yet, burnout is a very real byproduct of this time of the year as well, causing companies potential problems for productivity and culture, noted Workhuman president Tom Libretto. “Leaders have to prioritize keeping employee engagement healthy through the home stretch of the year,” he said. “It’s clear the holiday spirit is more than a marketing tactic, but a real trend that leaders can use as momentum to drive engagement.”

The easiest way to do that is to encourage employees to appreciate each other, according to Libretto. Employers should allow the space for workers to celebrate each other’s accomplishments, whether it’s that sales goal they crushed, the project a client loved or even the 5K they ran over the weekend.

“Leaders have to prioritize keeping employee engagement healthy through the home stretch of the year. It’s clear the holiday spirit is more than a marketing tactic, but a real trend that leaders can use as momentum to drive engagement.”
Tom Libretto, president of Workhuman.

“As we saw in the data, a strong majority — nearly 70% — of workers say that receiving public recognition from colleagues helps reduce their end-of-year stress,” he said. “You give a shout-out, you get a better culture; you create a positive flywheel that keeps turning into the new year and beyond.”

Of all the emotional intelligence traits we can build, scientists believe that gratitude is the easiest, offered Jennifer Moss, an international speaker and the author of “The Burnout Epidemic.”

For one, Moss noted, our brains love the “chemical feedback loop.” In one study, researchers used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure the brain activity of participants experiencing different emotions and found that gratitude lit up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus, boosting serotonin and activating the brain stem to produce dopamine — “all the feel-good chemicals our bodies and brains love,” Moss said.

And yet, in our consistently disconnected workforce, we’re not showing our appreciation at the same pre-pandemic levels — despite the fact that expressing gratitude can have a profound impact on our work performance, she added.

Moss recommended several tactics for showing gratitude in the workplace.

First, suggest that in the spirit of the holidays, since most of the workforce is now hybrid or remote, that it might be nice to get together for lunch in person. “I keep hearing about people on the same video conference calls all day long, but sitting side by side,” Moss noted. “Research finds that having lunch together increases relational energy, which makes us more enthusiastic towards our work and increases our overall energy.”

To add a component that focuses on gratitude building, she proposed that employees might go around the table and ask each other one of the following questions:

  • What made you smile this week?
  • What was something nice that you noticed someone doing for you or for someone else?
  • What nice thing did you do for someone else this week?
  • Why don’t we all make a plan? What nice thing could we do for a co-worker this week? Employees can report back the following week, when they have lunch again, to make another plan of action.

Expressions of gratitude might include writing down three compliments on a sticky note about someone on one’s team and posting it in a place where everyone can see. Doing so once a week, on a specific day, then becomes part of the workplace routine, Moss noted — like “Thank You Thursdays” or “Mindful Mondays.” Instituting a gratitude board is another solution.

Moss also suggested sending a text or social media message to a co-worker to let them know how they made your work week better, and making it a habit by locking it in one’s calendar.

A minimum investment of time can make a world of difference when it comes to showing and feeling acknowledged at work, as Moss sees it. “Set up 15 minutes each week to appreciate someone,” she said.