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Jones: The business of giving thanks

The Thanksgiving holiday provides us with a wonderful opportunity each November to pause and reflect on the many things that we each have to be grateful for. We quickly recall thoughts of loyal friends, families, good health, material possessions, and the significant milestones of the past year. Important? Yes. Reaffirming the obvious? Most certainly.

How far do our thoughts of gratefulness extend beyond these usual categories? Think of all those who have contributed in some positive way to our professional journeys over the past year. There are those that we so often fail to acknowledge in the rush of our day-to-day activities. What about those who work “behind the scenes” to keep our workplaces clean and functional? What about the colleague who has taken the time to share a moment of encouragement during a difficult day or one who can always be counted on for a smile? What about the manager who challenges you to stretch beyond your comfort zone?

Have you found an opportunity to communicate your thankfulness to your fellow co-workers? The strength of your organization may depend on it.

Dr. P.M. Forni, professor at Johns Hopkins University and co-founder of the John Hopkins Civility Project, has conducted research demonstrating that showing thanks in the workplace is essential to the health of an organization. Study findings have concluded that treating co-workers with civility lowers stress and positively influences employee retention, reduces absenteeism and enhances workplace morale. Regardless of our individual roles within our organizations, we can each contribute to a more positive environment by recognizing the contributions of others and expressing our gratitude.

Ron Ashkenas, author of “Simply Effective,” acknowledged in a recent post for the Harvard Business Review Blog that neglecting to share interpersonal thanks is usually unintentional, especially for those who are busy and overwhelmed. He suggests overcoming this by building a “thanks step” into project plans or bringing the team together for a celebration that is focused on accomplishment. Ashkenas suggested that some managers may just need a post-it note on their desk to serve as a reminder to share appropriate words of thankfulness.

Be sure to remember your customers and suppliers in your thankfulness efforts. Where would we be without these important stakeholders? Yet we tend to rely on more formalized communication such as annual thank-you cards and letters or wrap a customer thank you into a marketing campaign. What proves to be far more effective is providing a timely and immediate word of thanks when an occasion naturally arises. It may take the form of sharing appreciation when a supplier goes above and beyond to meet a last-minute need or when every shipment arrives accurately and on time. It may mean acknowledging that a customer has many available vendor options and thanking them sincerely for putting their confidence in your organization. Nothing fancy is needed here, a quick email or phone call will suffice. What matters is the sincerity.

I’ll extend a challenge to find ways for organizational gratitude to be nurtured throughout the year, not to let it be something we remind ourselves of during the third week in November. It’s a challenge I’ll personally accept as well as I’m definitely planning to put the “thanks step” into action. Perhaps if we each displayed more thankfulness on a regular basis there would be even more to be grateful for come next Thanksgiving.

• Catherine Jones is executive director of Workforce, Community and Business Programs for McHenry County College’s Shah Center. She may be reached at 815-459-7752 or at cjones@mchenry.edu.

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