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The ROI of Gratitude

USC Marshall’s Dr. Glenn Fox makes the case that gratitude is good for the bottom line

January 02, 2018
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Lest you think that gratitude has no place in the dog-eat-dog world of business, Dr. Glenn Fox, Head of Design, Strategy and Outreach for USC Marshall’s Performance Science Institute, has some news for you.

For businesses, gratitude comes with significant ROI (return-on-investment).

A neuroscientist by training, Fox is at the forefront of research on gratitude and human performance. As a founding member of USC Marshall’s Performance Science Institute, he teaches a class on the science of peak performance and regularly leads trainings with business leaders and others seeking to improve a high performance mindset.

“Gratitude is so closely correlated with happiness, optimism and lifestyle, that now we explore it as a tool to improve our work lives,” he says.

For business leaders, the bottom line is deceptively simple: Showing and demonstrating you care for other people, like your employees, inspires them to take care of you too. “When a company’s people cooperate and like each other, the company does better. It’s that simple, and the research backs it up.”

“If you practice [gratitude] as a manager, you’ll probably get people to perform better. If you practice it as a worker, you’ll improve your performance.” --Dr. Glenn Fox, Performance Science Institute

Creating long-lasting and trusting relationships is key to business. “Think of our own Trojan network,” he says. “It works because as a group we go out of our way to be grateful for each other. We help each other out.”

Finding the Good

For workers, practicing gratitude pays off as well. “Even if you have a difficult job, practicing and looking for ways to experience gratitude can allow you to see clearly about the people around you who are good and what’s working,” he said. “It will help you change your perception. It’s a huge tool.”

Gratitude, he says, is a skill that needs to be practiced. “If you practice it as a manager, you’ll probably get people to perform better,” he says. “If you practice it as a worker, you’ll improve your performance.”

But how to practice? It’s not complicated. “You’re trying to build your mindful awareness of what others are doing for you.”

“At the PSI we’re big fans of mindful practice,” he says “This can be meditating on one’s breath or taking a walk and seeing how many things you can observe. Mindful practice can also include being grateful. We can observe the things people do to help us.”

Start simply. Take time in the morning to write down three things you’re grateful for or can appreciate in that moment, including other people, but also every-day blessings like a nice meal or even a chance to catch your breath in a hectic job, or even more broadly. You can appreciate working on a beautiful campus and those who do such a great job keeping it running.

The Maori have a saying, says Fox: “Gratitude is the glue that binds people together.”  It spirals outward and creates a strongly bonded team.

Competitor’s Emotion

But what about your edge? Won’t all these feel-good exercises cut into your ability to remain competitive?

Far from it, according to Fox.  

“Talk to [Seattle Seahawks and former USC football coach] Pete Carroll, someone who has built his career on competitiveness. He’ll tell you that he is very grateful for his opponents and their best efforts. Because how can you bring your A game if you don’t know what you’re up against?”

Gratitude is a competitor’s emotion, he says. “We’ve found that in large settings, in high performance teams, what motivates people to compete is gratitude. Are you grateful for the team or not? Are you going to fight to protect it?”

This applies to workplaces as well.

One of the top reasons managers come to PSI for training and consultation is to learn how to reduce turnover, which is costly in terms of dollars and productivity, says Fox. “Learning how to practice gratitude for your team, your employees, is an inexpensive management tool that can have an incredible payoff down the line.”