How to Battle Employee Complacency by Building a Culture of Gratitude


There’s a surprising common thread to happiness.  People who report high levels of happiness aren’t smarter or richer than other people.  They don’t have more family members or a higher level of education, from some famous university.  They aren’t the managers or the employees, necessarily, because they can be either. 

The common quality among those who are the happiest is actually gratitude.

The person with one meal a day and one set of clothes is just as likely to be happy, in some ways statistically more likely to be than happy, than the person who could wear a different outfit everyday for a year without repeat. That’s because whether or not we appreciate the things and the people in our lives has nothing to do with who or what we have, and everything to do with how we view them.

Knowing the relationship between gratitude and happiness can help you battle workplace complacency.  Here’s how.

What is Complacency in the Workplace?

Workplace engagement boosts productivity, reduces both sick days and employee turnover, and improves the bottom line for businesses.  Complacent employees are disengaged.  What causes complacency can vary greatly by individual, but you will observe it by noticing:

  • A lack of initiative
  • A lack of creative thinking
  • A lack of foresight
  • A lack of risk-taking
  • A lack of interest in promoting your business
  • A willingness to take shortcuts
  • A willingness to miss work or be late for meetings
  • Slovenliness
  • Unprofessionalism

All of these traits add up to disengagement, which is costly to any business.

How do You Cultivate Gratitude?

Telling employees they are disengaged, ungrateful or lazy does absolutely nothing to motivate anyone.  Many a manager has tried, and failed, to motivate by criticism.  That doesn’t mean you can’t set a standard and build a culture of gratitude, though.  Here are some key tips to get you started:

  1. Lead by example — If you are late, too casual, or seem unmotivated (even if you seem that way because your employees fail to observe what you are doing), you will not inspire your team to improve.  Set an example of professionalism.  Tell your team what you are up to, and how you value your business.
  2. Name the standard — Without calling anyone to the carpet, issue policy about what your expectations are in terms of appearance and professionalism.  It’s a simple way, and general way, to address any absenteeism and slovenliness.
  3. Make it a game — You don’t have to call it gratitude (in fact, you shouldn’t), but you can make production and working a game to increase engagement.  Reward your team with bonuses, prizes or gift cards.  It can be small, as long as it’s something they’d actually want.
  4. Give as a team — One of the most successful ways to develop gratitude is through service.  If you volunteer as a team, you have the added bonus of improving a sense of teamwork while you provide a needed service to your community.
  5. Include some recognition — When you see initiative, risk-taking, humility, appreciation demonstrated to one another, or any other positive quality that you’d like to see more of, be sure to acknowledge it.  Direct acknowledgement to an employee is great–acknowledging it in front of everyone (such as at a team meeting) is better.
  6. Keep it real — Make your praise frequent, but genuine. In this cynical age, don’t be surprised if people tend to distrust recognition.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it, it’s just something to be aware of.

As you persist, and regularly practice these qualities, you will make it part of the workplace culture, combating complacency and building a workplace culture of gratitude.

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