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How to Manage Workplace Stress

One emotion that defines the workplace today is stress. It can be productive, motivating leaders to innovate, or draining, leading to employee burnout. Given the increased complexity of decision-making in a crisis-driven workplace, leaders need to be proactive, or stress can harm well-being. A proven solution? Cultivating an attitude of gratitude reduces adverse workplace stress effects.

Why do you need a workplace stress reduction strategy?

Employees are stressed out. A global study of 14,800 knowledge-workers across 25 countries revealed:

  • 49% of leaders and 42% of non-managers are struggling with anxiety

  • 74% of those surveyed are looking to company leadership for help dealing with workplace stress.

The costs of workplace stress and burnout are severe for individuals and organizations. Manufacturing organizations like General Motors report spending more on healthcare than they do on raw materials for their products.

In an effort to quantify the costs of workplace stress, a recent study found that workplace stressors in the United States account for more than 120,000 deaths per year and approximately 5-8% of annual healthcare costs.

According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, the personal and organizational side-effects of executive leadership burnout include:

  • broken relationships

  • substance abuse

  • depression

  • decreased customer satisfaction

  • reduced productivity

  • increased employee turnover

Also, we are more connected to each other than we may recognize, and stress is a emotional contagion. Research has demonstrated that co-workers can spread stress within a workgroup. For example, someone on your team who is feeling down enters a meeting. Within a few minutes, the entire team's emotions begin to mimic their behaviors and non-verbal expressions.

The following short NPR video discusses how emotions are contagious.

Why gratitude matters

Grateful leaders have less stress. Gratitude is a positive emotion that brings balance to a negative mindset. Many studies link gratitude with improved health, increased happiness, and decreased feelings of anxiety and depression.

Similar to the saying, you are what you eat. If we allow only negative thoughts and feelings into our lives, it is harmful to our well-being. Consider the emotion of envy. It is impossible to be both envious and grateful at the same time. Gratitude helps create a barrier to negative thoughts and feelings.

The following short video explains some of the science behind why gratitude matters.

Feeling appreciated is linked to well-being and employee performance. A study involving over 1700 working adults revealed that those who feel valued by their leader are more likely to report higher levels of physical and mental health as well as engagement, satisfaction, and motivation when compared to those who do not.

What gratitude means?

According to the American Psychological Association, gratitude is a sense of thankfulness and happiness in response to receiving a gift, either a tangible benefit given by someone or a fortunate happenstance.

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others." – Cicero.

Gratitude consists of an affirmation of goodness and a source outside of ourselves. Gratitude involves both the ability to acknowledge the good in your life and feeling a sense of thankfulness. Empathy, kindness, and love are closely related to the virtue of gratitude.

The following questions taken from The Gratitude Questionnaire can be used to determine and benchmark your likelihood to experience gratitude:

  1. I have so much in life to be thankful for.

  2. If I had to list everything I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list.

  3. When I look at the world, I don't see much to be thankful for.

  4. I am grateful to a wide variety of people.

  5. As I get older, I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events, and situations

  6. that have been part of my life history.

  7. Extended amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful for something or someone.

Adapted from McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., and Tsang, J. (2002) The Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ-6). Benchmarks and scoring are available via the Measurement Instrument Database for the Social Sciences:

The following video from gratitude expert Robert Emmons addresses the topic of what gratitude means.

How to Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is something we can all do and is a healthy leadership habit. The best way to get started is by making gathering and giving gratitude easy and gradually increasing the practice. is an app that makes getting started easy. I have used and found it effective to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness. The app will send you a simple daily prompt asking you about what you are grateful for, and it stores your responses in a private online journal. What you record can be as simple as what comes to your mind or a purposeful reflection on something good that happened that day and why you felt good. I find scrolling through my journal very encouraging, and it also serves as a way for me to track my progress.

Stop. Look. Go. The following video presents getting started with practicing gratitude begins by getting quiet, looking through our senses, and then taking the opportunity presented.

Giving gratitude makes you happier. After listing what you are grateful for each day, take a few moments to practice giving gratitude. Not only will the act of reflecting and journaling what you are thankful for make you happier but giving appreciation will multiply the positive effects on your emotions. Simply send a thank you note or, better yet, deliver the thank you note or say thank you in person.

Key Summary Points:

  • Given the increased complexity of decision-making in a crisis-driven workplace, leaders need to be proactive, or stress can harm physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

  • The costs of workplace stress and burnout are severe for individuals and organizations.

  • Grateful leaders have less stress.

  • The best way to get started is by making gathering and giving gratitude easy, then gradually increasing the habit.

Visit our executive coaching page to learn more about how we help you achieve your personal or professional goals or partner with you to craft a solution specific to your organization's context and challenges. Getting started is as easy as visiting or contacting us via email Organizational Talent Consulting utilizes proven, simple, and transformational personal and organizational development solutions to help our clients learn, change, and apply tools in ways that benefit their unique needs and corporate culture.


Adecco. (2021). Resetting normal: Defining the new era of work 2021[PDF]. The Adecco Group.

APA. (2012). APA survey finds feeling valued at work linked to well-being and performance.

Goh, J., Pfeffer, J., & Zenios, S. (2016). The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States [PDF]. Management Science.

Harvard Medical School. (2021). Giving thanks can make you happier. Harvard Health Publishing.

McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 112-127.

The Gratefulness Team. (2021). What is Gratitude? A Network for Grateful Living

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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