You wake up dreading the idea of heading into the office. At your lunch break, you spend the entire time commiserating with co-workers. When you finally get home at the end of the day, you continue the complaining, unloading on your significant other. In short: your job is making you miserable.
I’ve been there. A management change took an uplifting and productive environment and turned it into a toxic one. I wish that I had read Tom’s article on the Gratitude Index at the time! I’m sure I would have seen myself in it, and perhaps my journey back to the healthier end of the Gratitude Index would have happened faster.
I wanted to write this article for people who find themselves having trouble practicing gratitude at work. If you’re stuck at the toxic end of that Gratitude Index, the question is: what are you going to do about it?
Because here’s the thing, you can do something about it. The change might not happen overnight, but it’s possible to find gratitude at work again. How?
Be honest. This is the first and perhaps most important step. Why aren’t you feeling gratitude at work? Where are the complaints really coming from? Once you understand this, you can take steps to start moving over to the more positive side of that Gratitude Index. Often, it’s your own perspective and expectations that set you up for disappointment, but sometimes it’s something external, such as a lack of challenges, the company culture, or the aforementioned change in management.
Understanding the source is key, because even if the source is external, often part of it is still within your control or in your own mind. Don’t be too quick to overlook your part.
Seek advice. Of course, it’s not always easy to be honest about our own actions and emotions. You need to be able to take a step outside yourself to assess the situation, and often that’s pretty impossible. So why not ask someone else to do it for you?
You want to find someone you trust. Ideally, he or she should work in your field (or at least be active in the workplace of today) but not be at your office or in your department. The further removed they are from the situation, the more likely they are to be impartial in their assessment of it. Also, since you won’t run the risk of anything you divulge coming back to bite you later, you can be more forthcoming with the details. Remember, the goal here isn’t to “dish” on your officemates, but to provide the facts of the situation to figure out why you’ve lost your gratitude at work.
Take action. If an external issue is partially or completely to blame, you can often take steps to change it. For example, if you’re not being challenged enough at work, talk to your boss about taking on additional responsibilities. Or if you’re having problems with a management change, schedule a meeting to discuss how you can get more in line with the new regime. Got passed up for a raise or promotion? Find out what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Motivate. For most of us, at least part of the problem is in our own hearts and minds, and it may require a change in attitude. Acknowledging your part in the problem is often the hardest thing to do, but that doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing from there.
Post motivational reminders above your computer screen and on your work phone. It may seem a little cheesy at first, but these small things can help you take a second to reflect on the positive before engaging in a business interaction, helping to shift your perspective.
Another way to motivate yourself to practice gratitude in the workplace is to take stock of the things you have to be thankful for at the end of every business day. Many people do this in their personal life by keeping a journal. Why not do something similar at work? Either do it the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper, or create a Word document. By forcing yourself to focus on the positive regularly, you may realize just how often good things happen that you previously overlooked, helping you to recognize more opportunities for gratitude at work.
Deflect. One of the biggest sources of ingratitude at work may be your co-workers. It’s hard to remain focused on what’s going right if you always have complainers pulling you back down again. Complaining is a normal part of the office environment; it helps us to bond and can help us to move on. In fact, keeping your dissatisfaction totally bottled up can result in it coming out in other ways and even reduce your cognitive functioning, according to Sigal Barsade, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies emotions in the workplace.
But when complaining gets out of hand, it can spread like a contagion, infecting the work culture. And some people just want to complain. This personality type is called the “help-rejecting complainer.” You know him or her; it’s that person on the extreme negative side of the Gratitude Index who lives to tear things down.
So how do you deal with this type of personality? Do what you can to deflect. Tune them out. Change the conversation. Try asking what’s going well for them. Encourage the person to find a solution. And above all, don’t join in. You’re just bringing yourself down, too.
Get help. Having trouble getting over your complaints and finding your positive attitude? It may be time to talk to someone about why you’re feeling this way. This can include HR at your company or even an outside therapist. It’s likely that ingratitude is infecting other areas of your life as well, so it may end up helping you in many ways that you didn’t expect.
Wait it out. Often after a major change in the workplace, you’ll experience a drastic swing on the Gratitude Index towards the negative – throughout the organization. But once the dust settles, things may sort themselves out. I worked at one company where they implemented a strict lockdown on the content people could view on the internet. The change was so upsetting to the workforce that they quickly put together a town hall meeting to allow people to air their grievances. In the end, the policy was relaxed a little but remained, and eventually, people remembered the other things to be grateful for in that workplace (which was pretty phenomenal to its employees, internet policy aside). Don’t let a bump in the road derail you.
Leave. Sometimes it’s not just a bump, but a major shift in the path of a company. If that new journey isn’t for you, it may be time to jump ship. We spend so much of our lives sitting behind our computers and desks and dealing with co-workers, clients, and employees; if you can’t find the gratitude for what you do day in and day out, you’re putting yourself through a lot of misery just for a paycheck.
In the end, the management change where I worked was just that: a huge change in the culture and environment that wasn’t a fit for me. But I didn’t just up and leave one day. I took my time, applying to jobs for at least 15 minutes every evening after work until I found an opportunity I really wanted. In the down economy, it took months of effort and was a significant pay cut, but I could not be more grateful that I took action to get myself out of that situation or for where it eventually led me.
Today, even on my most frustrating days, I am incredibly thankful for what I do for a living, and I am firmly planted on the positive end of that Gratitude Index.