How Gratitude Journaling Can Reduce Workplace Mistreatment

Want to create a more civil and less cut-throat workplace? Cultivate gratitude.

Posted Sep 23, 2020

studiostoks/Shutterstock
Source: studiostoks/Shutterstock

Encouraging employees to spend a few minutes each day jotting down what they're grateful for can help to reduce incivility, gossip, and ostracism in the workplace, a new study reports. This research (Locklear, Taylor, & Ambrose, 2020) into how a simple gratitude intervention can reduce mistreatment in the workplace was published online ahead of print on September 17 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

This University of Central Florida study was co-authored by associate professor of management Shannon Taylor, along with fellow management professor Maureen Ambrose, who focuses on business ethics; and a Ph.D. candidate, Lauren Locklear, who is expected to graduate in spring 2021.

What Are Gratitude-Cultivating Interventions?

"Gratitude interventions are exercises designed to increase your focus on the positive things in your life. One intervention involves writing down a list of things you are thankful for each day," Taylor said in a news release. "That simple action can change your outlook, your approach to work, and the way your co-workers see you."

"While organizations spend quite a bit of time and money to improve employee behavior, there are not a lot of known tools available to actually make the needed changes," Locklear added. "We found the gratitude journal is a simple, inexpensive intervention that can have a significant impact on changing employee behavior for the better."

For this two-pronged study, Locklear, Taylor, and Ambrose investigated how a two-week gratitude journaling intervention influenced workplace incivility, gossip, and ostracism among hundreds (N = 351) of co-workers. For 10 business days, study participants were asked to spend a few minutes each day writing in a gratitude journal about people to whom they were grateful and other things for which they were thankful.

After company-wide participation in this gratitude intervention, employees self-reported a noticeable reduction in rude, gossipy, and ostracizing behaviors among their co-workers. As the authors explain, "Employees demonstrated that the intervention decreased mistreatment (as reported by co-workers) by enhancing self-control resources."

In addition to having a negative impact on psychological and physical well-being, workplace incivility and mistreatment can also hurt a company's bottom line due to low morale, lost productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover, and possible litigation. If employees feel mistreated in the workplace, they're less likely to feel enthusiastic about making wholehearted contributions towards their employer's financial success.

"Gratitude exercises are becoming increasingly popular products to improve employee attitudes and well-being, and our study shows managers can also use them to foster more respectful behavior in their teams," Taylor concluded. 

References

Lauren R. Locklear, Shannon G. Taylor, Maureen L. Ambrose. "How a Gratitude Intervention Influences Workplace Mistreatment: A Multiple Mediation Model." Journal of Applied Psychology (First published online: September 17, 2020) DOI: 10.1037/apl0000825