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Lesson for bosses: Show workers you appreciate them, and they’ll work harder

Glenn Fox of the Performance Science Institute at USC Marshall explains why appreciation is good for the bottom line

team celebrating at work in office
Gratitude and happiness at work lead to better performance and is good for business, says USC Marshall’s Glenn Fox. (Photo/iStock)

For people who think gratitude has no place in the dog-eat-dog world of business, the head of design, strategy and outreach for USC’s Performance Science Institute has some news: For businesses, gratitude comes with significant ROI, or return on investment.

“Gratitude is so closely correlated with happiness, optimism and lifestyle that now we explore it as a tool to improve our work lives,” said Glenn Fox, a neuroscientist by training who is at the forefront of research on gratitude and human performance.

As a founding member of the USC Marshall School of Business’s Performance Science Institute, he teaches a class on the science of peak performance and leads trainings with business leaders and others seeking to improve a high-performance mindset.

For business leaders, the bottom line is deceptively simple: Showing and demonstrating you care for other people, like your employees, inspires them to take care of you, too.

When a company’s people cooperate and like each other, the company does better.

Glenn Fox

“When a company’s people cooperate and like each other, the company does better. It’s that simple, and the research backs it up.”

Creating long-lasting and trusting relationships is key to business.

“Think of our own Trojan network,” Fox said. “It works because as a group we go out of our way to be grateful for each other. We help each other out.”

Changing one’s perception

For workers, practicing gratitude pays off as well.

“Even if you have a difficult job, practicing and looking for ways to experience gratitude can allow you to see clearly about the people around you who are good and what’s working,” he said. “It will help you change your perception. It’s a huge tool.”

Gratitude, he said, is a skill that needs to be practiced.

“If you practice it as a manager, you’ll probably get people to perform better,” he said. “If you practice it as a worker, you’ll improve your performance.”

But how to practice? It’s not complicated: “You’re trying to build your mindful awareness of what others are doing for you.

“At the [institute], we’re big fans of mindful practice,” Fox said. “This can be meditating on one’s breath or taking a walk and seeing how many things you can observe. Mindful practice can also include being grateful. We can observe the things people do to help us.”

Start simply. Take time in the morning to write down three things you’re grateful for or can appreciate in that moment, including other people, but also every-day blessings like a nice meal or even a chance to catch your breath in a hectic job. Even more broadly, you can appreciate working on a beautiful campus and those who do such a great job keeping it running.

The Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, have a saying, Fox said: “Gratitude is the glue that binds people together.”

Future payoffs

But what about your edge? Won’t all these feel-good exercises cut into your ability to remain competitive? Far from it, according to Fox.

“Talk to Pete Carroll, someone who has built his career on competitiveness,” Fox said of the Seattle Seahawks football coach who led the Trojans from 2000 to 2009 and is a co-creator of USC’s Performance Science Institute. “He’ll tell you that he is very grateful for his opponents and their best efforts. Because how can you bring your A game if you don’t know what you’re up against?”

Gratitude is a competitor’s emotion, he said. “We’ve found that in large settings, in high-performance teams, what motivates people to compete is gratitude,” he said. “Are you grateful for the team or not? Are you going to fight to protect it?”

That applies to workplaces as well.

One of the top reasons managers go to the Performance Science Institute for training and consultation is to learn how to reduce turnover, which is costly in terms of dollars and productivity, Fox said.

“Learning how to practice gratitude for your team, your employees, is an inexpensive management tool that can have an incredible payoff down the line.”

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Lesson for bosses: Show workers you appreciate them, and they’ll work harder

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