Six ways to harness gratitude power in the workplace

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Homewood native Omar Amir is spending the summer as part of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington-Normal. | Supplied photo

Many employees assume their bosses and co-workers don't appreciate their hard work. Those workers won't have any true motivation or dedication, and productivity will be mediocre at best.

In the midst of an already-tough economy, this is the last thing any of us needs. But tapping into the Thanksgiving spirit of gratitude can tip the balance between success and growth and stagnation and failure.

If you're a leader who wants to harness the power of thanks, or an employee who wants to start a grassroots movement, read on for six how-to tips:

Always say "thank you." By taking a few seconds out of your day, you will improve another person's mood, day, and productivity level. You'll also be making yourself more approachable and likeable, and over time your team will begin to relate to you more positively.

Take intent into account. I often tried to show my employees just how much I appreciated them by sending high achievers to sports games, highlighting various employees in company newsletters, planning company parties, etc. Sometimes those plans were well received; other times they weren't.

Inevitably, there will always be someone who says, "Gosh, the food at this party tastes horrible," for example. I'm bringing this up because you need to remember that despite negative feedback, showing gratitude is always the right thing...and the majority of non-complainers probably loved your gesture.

Start being more open. If you're a leader, constructively tell your people how they can improve their performances. If you're a team member, be proactive about asking your coworkers and boss how you're doing and how you can get better at your job. And no matter what your position is, learn how to receive constructive criticism.

Showing others that you care enough to either help them or to improve yourself is a form of gratitude, because you're demonstrating that your team is worth the investment of your time, energy, and advice.

Learn to graciously accept thanks. How you respond to appreciation is also important. Whenever someone thanks you or notices something positive about you, try to truly engage with them and let them know that their words have been meaningful.

If you brush off compliments or ignore expressions of gratitude you'll eventually stop hearing "thanks!" altogether, and you'll be discouraging the person complimenting you from reaching out to others in the same way.

Keep the gratitude going outside of your organization. Thank your customers or the people you serve for choosing your organization, and for trusting your team with their money, health, products, or publicity, to name a few examples. This is something that many clients don't hear, so when they do, their loyalty to your company is strengthened. You might also consider offering discounts, coupons, or promotions to show customer appreciation.

Use gratitude to reinforce stellar performances. Using gratitude to shape your team's habits and priorities can be every bit as valuable as training programs and industry conferences...at a fraction of the time and cost.

Whenever I saw an employee going out of her way to make sure that the product a client purchased was the best possible value, I thanked her for doing it. If a store manager made a mistake and came clean to me about it, I thanked him for that, too. Never forget that whatever you acknowledge positively will be repeated.

Throughout my years of leadership, I became more and more amazed by just how strong the power of thanks really is. Gratitude is an amazing motivator, it strengthens employee and customer loyalty, and it really can allow you to see a positive change in your company's bottom line. And especially in today's not-so-stellar economic environment, it's extra-important to give your people something to be positive about and thankful for.

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Todd Patkin is the author of "Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and - Finally - Let the Sunshine In (Step Wise Press, $19.95).