Giving, Receiving and Thanking (Jim Karrh On Marketing)

This time of year is probably our best opportunity to reflect on blessings, gifts and resolutions. There is now mounting evidence that gratitude on the job has very tangible benefits for those expressing thanks as well as those receiving it.

Americans are pretty good about expressing thanks and doing so for altruistic reasons, according to a national survey on gratitude involving 2,000 adults that was commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation. About six in 10 adults say they show gratitude daily to their spouse, while nearly half express gratitude daily to other members of their immediate families. The vast majority (92 percent) say they have been feeling the same or higher levels of gratitude during the past few years.

Do most people express gratitude in the hopes of getting something in return? When asked in the survey why they gave thanks, people were more than twice as likely to choose options related to the greater good (e.g., “it makes the world a better place”) than to choose options related to reciprocity (e.g., “other people will be nicer to me”).

That’s encouraging news. Still, the workplace is a venue where expressions of gratitude are far less likely to happen. Only one in seven Americans gives thanks on a daily basis to friends or work colleagues. More than one-third of those surveyed said they never have thanked a boss.

Clearly, there is room for a “gratitude adjustment” on the job in 2014. If you can lead such a change in behavior within your business, then be prepared for an uptick in effort and productivity as well.

I recently saw an example of the power of gratitude in marketing and sales in the form of field research led by Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School. Gino tested these effects with 41 fundraisers at a university, all of whom were working on fixed salaries. For half of the group, the development director visited them in person to say, “I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.” The other half of the group received no extra expression of thanks. During the next week, the experimental group (who received direct thanks) increased the number of calls they made by 50 percent, while the control group made the same number of calls as they had the previous week.

If you have a sales or development operation, wouldn’t you be interested in driving 50 percent higher activity levels just from the power of your words?

There are substantial benefits to the thanks-giver as well. People motivated to express thanks on a regular basis also feel more optimistic, are more satisfied with their lives, show fewer physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, acne, nausea) and even exercise more often, according to research conducted by Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California at Riverside.

What is the best way to start? In a series of studies Lyubomirsky had participants literally count their blessings. She directed people to keep a journal, writing down and thinking about five things for which they were grateful. Those who were intentional about counting their blessings (compared with a control group directed to simply “think about five daily hassles or five life events” that had happened to them) experienced those wonderful health and psychological benefits.

To fine-tune the analysis, Lyubomirsky and her team next wanted to learn how often the blessing count should occur. One group of participants updated their gratitude journals on a weekly basis (Sunday nights only), while a second group made entries three times per week (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday). Interestingly enough, those who counted their blessings once per week gained far greater benefits — likely because doing so more frequently became a ritual or chore rather than an opportunity for deeper reflection.

In that spirit, thank you for continuing to be engaged in this column — and best wishes for a 2014 that will generate even more blessings for you to count.

Jim Karrh of Little Rock is a marketing consultant, researcher, speaker and author. See JimKarrh.com or email him at Jim@JimKarrh.com.