receives compensation from some of the companies listed on this page. Advertising Disclosure


Follow a Gratitude Strategy to Pull Employees Out of Their Negative Slump

Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern

It may be hard to find things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Still, business owners need to help employees be grateful for what they do have.

It may be harder than usual to find things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season because of all the hardships in the world, in the community and even in your own business.

Still, it's important for small business owners to try to help their employees be grateful for what they do have.

We're nine months into this pandemic, and whether your employees are back at their desks, still working from home, or waiting to be called back from furloughs, they're wondering the same thing you and everyone else is: "How much longer?"

And even though you might have done everything you possibly could to keep your business open, to keep your employees on the payroll, and to keep spirits up, many of your employees may not be able to see past the hardships, even if they're doing better now.

This isn't unusual. In fact, the default position for most people is to fixate on the negative, even long after the bad experience has been forgotten by others. It's called "negativity bias." Negativity bias leads us to dwell on our mistakes such as on the one criticism the boss offered in an otherwise stellar performance evaluation or on the bad news of the day.

We focus so much on the negatives of the past that there's no room left in our minds or our hearts to recognize something good that might be going on right now. It's the "once bitten, twice shy" phenomenon: Once, a dog bit me, so I'll never trust another dog. Or I tried something new and it didn't go well, so I'm never going to try that again.

With so much going wrong in the world today, employees are overwhelmed with negative experiences and fears. Friends, co-workers and family members have been sick; some have died. Jobs have been lost. Paychecks have been unreliable. Bill are going unpaid. 

Where's the silver lining?

Frankly, silver linings are everywhere: More free time to pursue hobbies or go back to school and more family dinners at home, for starters. A business that opened again after being closed all summer. Employees who are called back to work after a lengthy furlough.

Managers have a new job during this in-between time of open and closed: helping employees recognize and embrace the positives that are happening despite the negatives. And realizing that without the help of someone who is committed to embracing the positive, they're not going to do it on their own.

Here are seven gratitude strategies to help managers get employees into the grateful spirit that the month of November has always brought out in us:

Search for silver linings.

Managers can turn the conversation from glum to gleeful by consistently flipping bad news on its head. If you have to cut pay by 10% across the board, couch it in the good news: This means we won't have to lay anyone off. If your local government reinstitutes outdoor-only dining or shopping, enlist employees in brainstorming ways to serve customers outdoors and save the day.

Reframe the message. Adopt a "Yes, this is a problem, and here's a creative solution" mindset. Offer employees incentives for coming up with silver linings and solid gold ideas that will keep your business humming.

Get bad news out of the way.

If you have good news and bad news to report on the same day, announce them both at once, and start with the bad.

Psychologists have found that when people get the good news first, the bad news feels even worse in comparison. When the good news follows the bad, it changes the mood. It's a pick-me-up, a happy ending, an improvement. Improvement is always a good thing.

Interestingly, when researchers conduct polls about this, receivers of the news always say they want the bad first. But givers of the news most often elect to offer the good first, believing that it will soften the blow for what comes next.

Apparently, it doesn't.

Focus on the positive.

If you have good news, let your employees know. Go on and on about it. Celebrate it. Make it a big deal. Go overboard. Turn it into a virtual party.

When you deliver a negative message, do it quickly. Don't belabor it. State your business and move on. That way, employees will get the idea that good news is bigger than bad news. Good news is more important. Good news is worth more of their time.

The fact is that people tend to pay more attention to what's wrong than what's right. It's apparently an inherited trait that dates back to cave dwellers. So much danger was all around them that a sort of negativity radar helped them survive.

Managers who realize this devote very little time in staff meetings dwelling on what went wrong and save their energy for pumping up the staff.

Learn from the negative.

In the words of Helen Keller, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can … success be achieved."

This pandemic has added an extra layer of negative in addition to the burdens and concerns people carry. Losing a job, canceling a wedding or mourning the death of a pet would be disappointing even when the world is at its healthiest. But now, those things can seem even more devastating.

Here's how a manager can help a devastated employee deal with disappointment:

  • Acknowledge that the disappointment is valid.
  • Empathize with the employee's feelings.
  • Invite the employee to talk about the loss.
  • Help the employee come up with ways to celebrate or grieve and move on.

Managers also can make it "safe" for employees to fail. They can welcome new ideas and experiments, with no penalty. They can enlist other employees to help figure out what went wrong, devise a new plan and try again. That way, failure is a means to progress.

Respond to bad news.

One of the reasons we dwell on negative news is that we believe it. And media researchers have found that once we believe something – even if it isn't true – we will go to great lengths to find more evidence that it is.

The more evidence we find to confirm the negative, the less likely we will believe anyone or anything trying to convince us that it's not true or that it's not as bad as we think it is.

So smart managers address bad news head-on. They're honest and transparent with their teams instead of trying to hide a negative situation. They acknowledge the problems the business is having and they let employees know as soon as they do if those problems will cause negative consequences for the staff and the company.

When employees are uninformed, they might make their decisions and form their opinions based on rumors, assumptions, and whatever they can find that confirms their worst fears. That can lead to low morale, resignations and a dip in productivity.

Don't pretend that nothing negative exists. Your employees already know it does.

Deal with the politics.

The research firm Gartner found last year that 36% of employees said they avoid working with or talking to certain co-workers because of their political views.

And in a survey the Society for Human Resource Management took during the 2016 election between former Sen. Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump, 1 in 4 employees reported being negatively affected by stress and workplace arguments that lowered productivity as election night approached.

In another study from Florida State University, more than one-quarter of employees reported increased stress because of politics, and one-third of them admitted to calling in sick sometimes because of it.

In the heat of this extended post-election cycle, voters on the losing side are likely to express their negative feelings as anger, resentment and even disrespect. Managers can't ignore these numbers. If offering a silver lining like "We can be grateful we live in a country that allows us to vote" doesn't calm nerves, perhaps a new company policy forbidding political discussions during work hours will.

Change things up.

If employees have trouble shaking the negative feelings that are preventing them from feeling grateful, managers have the option of introducing new projects and activities that might help them get there.

An example is the manager who noticed, about eight months into the pandemic, that her very small staff had become impatient at meetings and had lost enthusiasm for the work.

Her solution: She asked a few of the more influential employees to choose a group to come up with a plan to inject some fun into the business's social media pages. After the first meeting, word got around that the group was having a blast with the project, and every single employee asked to join.

The group decided to meet weekly and asked the manager not to attend. Now, the employees spend about half of each meeting talking as friends – without the manager listening in – and half being super creative on the company’s behalf.

That group has even decided to host a virtual Friendsgiving. And the first thing on the agenda: They'll take turns revealing the thing about their jobs they are most grateful for.

Put the 'thanks' back into November.

During hard times, the blessings we could count aren't always obvious. They're hidden beneath negativity, bad news, sickness, sadness and bad luck.

Business owners can ignore this or indulge it. Or they can remind their employees every day that hidden doesn't mean gone. Things that are hard to find aren't impossible to find.

Give your employees a nudge. They might just be grateful for you if you do.


Image Credit: Ridofranz / Getty Images
Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern Member
Known far and wide as “Dr. Cindy,” the First Lady of Sales, Dr. Cindy McGovern holds a Doctorate Degree in Organizational Communication and a Master’s Degree in Marketing. She earned her reputation by building (and rebuilding) entire sales programs from the bottom up. Dr. Cindy, who is CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, has helped hundreds of companies and individuals around the world from small to huge create dramatic and sustainable revenue growth. She has also authored, Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work, scheduled for release in September 2019 by McGraw Hill Professional. Dr. Cindy is an expert in the areas of sales, interpersonal communication, leadership, and change management. She can quickly figure out what an organization or individual needs to be more successful, and her current knowledge of many industries helps leaders implement new behaviors needed to succeed. One reason for her success is that she serves as both teacher and coach, working together with individuals, regardless of their role or where they are in their career to co-create their future. She doesn’t tell her clients what to do—she listens, learns about their successes and challenges, and then helps them create strategies designed to be effective long after her visit has ended. An in-demand speaker, Dr. Cindy has presented at both national and international conferences on the topics of Sales, Management, Leadership, Sales Management, and Interpersonal Communication, Organizational Change, Conflict Resolution, and Collective Bargaining.