Journal of Nursing Education

Research Briefs 

Generating Gratitude in the Workplace to Improve Faculty Job Satisfaction

Amy Stegen, MSN, RN; Jamie Wankier, MSN, RN

Abstract

Background:

The current nursing shortage affects all settings. In an effort to promote retention of nursing faculty, an “attitude of gratitude” was cultivated to improve job satisfaction and increase collaboration in one school of nursing.

Method:

This was a quantitative study using a convenience sample of faculty at one school of nursing. A presurvey of faculty on perceived gratitude levels and job satisfaction was administered prior to the start of the school year. Multiple gratitude interventions were implemented throughout the year and a postsurvey was administered to measure the effectiveness of interventions.

Results:

The findings of this study show an improvement of 17.9% in overall job satisfaction, which is consistent with other studies on the topic. Collaboration was not affected by gratitude interventions.

Conclusion:

Implementing gratitude is a cost-effective and easy way to improve job satisfaction to increase faculty retention rates. [J Nurs Educ. 2018;57(6):375–378.]

Abstract

Background:

The current nursing shortage affects all settings. In an effort to promote retention of nursing faculty, an “attitude of gratitude” was cultivated to improve job satisfaction and increase collaboration in one school of nursing.

Method:

This was a quantitative study using a convenience sample of faculty at one school of nursing. A presurvey of faculty on perceived gratitude levels and job satisfaction was administered prior to the start of the school year. Multiple gratitude interventions were implemented throughout the year and a postsurvey was administered to measure the effectiveness of interventions.

Results:

The findings of this study show an improvement of 17.9% in overall job satisfaction, which is consistent with other studies on the topic. Collaboration was not affected by gratitude interventions.

Conclusion:

Implementing gratitude is a cost-effective and easy way to improve job satisfaction to increase faculty retention rates. [J Nurs Educ. 2018;57(6):375–378.]

Employee acquisition and retention is an issue for all sectors in part due to the increased number of retirees of the Baby Boomer population. Employee turnover creates a large expense for employers related to the cost of recruitment, hiring, onboarding, training, and lost productivity (Vien, 2017). Merhar (2016) postulated that the cost of replacing an employee ranges from 6 months' salary, to as much as twice their annual salary. Retention is one way to reduce turnover. According to Vien (2017), retention is about “finding a balance between maximizing productivity and shaping an organization where your employees want to work” (p. 26). As a result, it is vital that employees experience job satisfaction.

There is a current nursing shortage that is compounded by a shortage of nursing faculty (Plawecki, 2015). The leaders of nursing programs continue to struggle with having adequate funding and cannot afford the cost of faculty turnover. In addition, the nursing shortage decreases the supply of qualified faculty, making it imperative that faculty turnover be kept to a minimum. One way to directly improve retention rates is by improving job satisfaction (Derby-Davis, 2014). Research has shown that salary and compensation is only a small part of job satisfaction (Wang & Liesveld, 2015). Lanham, Rye, Rimsky, and Weill (2012) found that workplace-specific gratitude had a positive impact on job satisfaction and decreased symptoms of burnout. This study endeavored to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” at work to improve job satisfaction and collaboration among nursing faculty.

Literature Review

Job Satisfaction

The most used definition of job satisfaction is from Locke and states that it is “a pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one's job or job experiences” (Saari & Judge, 2004, p. 396). When evaluating employment, both thinking and feeling are involved. Positive feelings about the job result in more positive attitudes about the different daily job components (Saari & Judge, 2004). Workplace gratitude has been shown to decrease burnout and increase job satisfaction (Lanham et al., 2012). Gutierrez, Candela, and Carver (2012) demonstrated that perceived organizational support influenced the job satisfaction of nursing faculty, especially when associated with other factors. Positive emotions such as gratitude “transform people for the better” and are “vehicles for individual growth and social connection” (Fredrickson, 2001, p. 224) and can positively influence organizational support.

Faculty members are not always seeking a tangible or monetary award. Research demonstrates that strategies for improving faculty morale and elevating performance must reflect recognition for faculty contributions (Canale, Herdklotz, & Wild, 2014). Recognition, improvements in teaching environments, and administrative support have been shown to improve morale and increase job satisfaction (Canale et al., 2014). Appreciation and recognition efforts can be low cost and have minimal time commitments. Cultivating a culture of appreciation or gratitude lets employees know they are cared for and that their contributions and accomplishments are noted and supported (Canale et al., 2014). Authentic appreciation can and does create a culture in which gratitude is the norm rather than the exception—a culture that people feel valued for their work; this increases job and life satisfaction.

Gratitude

Gratitude can be difficult to define. It is individual in nature and to some can be considered an emotion or attitude, yet to others a habit or coping response. The word gratitude is derived from the Latin root gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness, (“Gratitude,” 2018). According to Emmons and McCullough (2003), gratitude can be defined as a “general tendency to recognize and respond with grateful emotion to the roles of other people's benevolence in the positive experiences and outcomes that one obtains” (p. 386). Individuals with high gratitude traits (grateful, thankful, and appreciative) are more likely to experience grateful moods and emotions in social and work interactions (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

Increased gratitude is also positively correlated with improved interactions and greater social support from coworkers (Lin, 2015; McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002), which may lead to improved job satisfaction. Kaplan et al. (2013) found that gratitude, and interventions increased employees self-reported gratitude, job-related positive affective well-being and decreased absences due to illness.

Research has demonstrated that one can enhance positive mood and well-being through the introduction of habitual activities such as gratitude journaling, random acts of kindness, and frequent self- and peer acknowledgment (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006). Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2006) found that choosing a variety of gratitude-inducing methods targeted toward a specific group or population is the most effective way to enhance overall gratitude in the individual and the group.

Collaboration

Grateful people demonstrated more prosocial behavior, increased feelings of appreciation for others, and a personal feeling of being loved (Fredrickson, 2001). Over time, gratitude can lead to a higher level of social support (Fredrickson, 2001). An exchange of gratitude can fuel reciprocal altruism, which can build enduring friendships, increase social bonds, increase team collaboration, and enhance connectedness (Chen, Chen, & Tsai, 2012; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006).

Individuals who focused on their personal blessings were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal or work problem (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). When one focuses on the benefits they have received from people in their life, feelings of love and care toward others is enhanced (Emmons & McCullough, 2003); this increases friendships and social bonding (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Gratitude has a direct effect on collaboration and cooperative relationships by improving trust, which is vital in maintaining relationships (Ting & Yeh, 2014).

Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions

To examine the role of positive emotions such as gratitude, the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions is useful. In this theory, positive emotion is broadened, and the broadening of emotions builds enduring personal resources such as social bonds, coping abilities, physical health, and emotional well-being that helps to strengthen all positive functioning (Fredrickson, 2001).

Purpose

The purpose of this quantitative study was to determine whether creating “an attitude of gratitude” in the workplace would increase job satisfaction and collaboration among faculty in a school of nursing. Measurement of these concepts was done using a survey that asked faculty to rate job satisfaction and collaboration on a Likert scale. The hypothesis was that by implementing gratitude through a variety of methods throughout the school year, job satisfaction and collaboration would improve through the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.

Method

Gratitude activities and interventions were offered to all nursing faculty as part of preplanned year-long team building activities. The surveys were administered prior to the start of the semester and at the end of the school year to assess whether the activities had any effect on faculty job satisfaction and teamwork. The survey questions were adapted from the grateful organizations questionnaire as found on the Greater Good website ( http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/12) (Berkeley, 2018). The surveys were considered exempt and permission was given to proceed by the university institutional review board. A disclosure was on the first page of the survey and informed consent was implied with submission of the completed survey.

The theme of “attitude of gratitude” was introduced in the opening faculty meeting. At that time, all faculty were provided a book titled Attitudes of Gratitude by Ryan (1999) and a plan for gratitude activities throughout the year was outlined. The book was chosen to support the theme and to provide guidance for group discussions at optional lunch sessions held twice each semester. Gratitude moments were instituted for recognition of whomever or whatever faculty chose during each faculty meeting at each level (Associate Degree in Nursing, RN-Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and Master of Science in Nursing) throughout the year. The gratitude moments were listed on each meeting agenda and initiated by administration with increased participation by faculty throughout the year. A private social media group website related to this topic was established for faculty and staff to share and interact socially with each other outside of the work environment. A gratitude bulletin board was set up in the break room and changed three times during the year. The bulletin board allowed faculty and staff to post different notes of thanks and recognize people or things for which they were grateful. The ultimate goal in introducing these gratitude interventions was to create a more grateful environment that would ultimately lead to increased collaboration and job satisfaction for faculty.

Findings

The nursing faculty comprised 8% men and 92% women. Experience in teaching ranged from 1 year to 28 years, with the median being 10 years. All faculty participated in the first survey (n = 51) and 61% of faculty completed the second survey (n = 31). At the beginning of the fall semester, 66% of the 51 respondents ranked their job satisfaction as high or moderately high, 23.5% ranked it as moderate, and 9.8% ranked it as moderately low. The end-of-semester survey showed an improvement, with 83.9% of the 31 faculty ranking their job satisfaction as high or moderately high, 12.9% as moderate, and 3.2% as moderately low. The percentage of faculty rating their job satisfaction as moderately high to high improved by 17.9%. The largest effect of the gratitude interventions was with faculty who had moderate job satisfaction. The percentage of moderately satisfied faculty or staff decreased from 23.9% in the presurvey to 12.9% in the postsurvey by moving into the high to moderately high rankings.

Comparable data acquired on the pre- and postsurvey was analyzed using an independent t test in SPSS® software with significance at .05. On the question asking how the faculty rated their job satisfaction, the mean on the presurvey was 3.75 (SD = 0.868). The mean on the postsurvey was 4.129 (SD = 0.763). An independent t test demonstrated a significant increase in job satisfaction following the intervention (p = .042).

Participants were asked to rate how often leaders in the organization take time to express sincere gratitude to other members who have contributed to the success of the organization. There was a statistically significant difference in the preintervention scores (M = 3.63, SD = 0.755) and the postintervention scores (M = 4.16, SD = 0.58; p = .001).

In addition, participants were asked how often they personally expressed thanks or gratitude to others in the organization. There was no statistically significant difference in the preintervention scores (M = 3.776, SD = 0.587) and postintervention scores (M = 3.968, SD = 0.482; p = .115) (Table).

Comparison of t Tests for Questions on Pre- and Postsurvey

Table:

Comparison of t Tests for Questions on Pre- and Postsurvey

On the postsurvey, two questions were asked that were not on the presurvey. The first question asked if the gratitude interventions improved overall job satisfaction: 27.5% reported sometimes, 13.7 % reported often, and 11.8 % reported always. Only 7.9 % reported rarely or never. The final question examined was only on the postsurvey asking whether teamwork and collaboration increased with the gratitude interventions. Faculty reporting sometimes was 29.4%, often was 19.6%, and always was 5.9%. Only 5.9% of faculty reported rarely or never. Faculty overall appeared to feel that the gratitude interventions improved job satisfaction and were helpful in improving team-work and collaboration.

Discussion

The gratitude interventions were easy and inexpensive to implement. Faculty were more involved and participated at much higher levels during the year than was anticipated. The 17.9% increase in faculty stating high to moderately high job satisfaction was a significant increase, although fewer people responded to the postsurvey, which may have skewed the results. It should be noted that the administration remained stable throughout the previous year and the year of this study. There were no gratitude interventions implemented within the department prior to the start of the school year or in the previous year. The final survey was completed at the end of the spring semester prior to summer break, so faculty may have expressed greater job satisfaction knowing that they were approaching a 3-month break. It is interesting to note that faculty did not report expressing more or less gratitude to coworkers but did feel that there was an increase in expression of gratitude from administration, which, combined with the interventions, may have helped to increase the overall rating of job satisfaction. Most faculty felt that the interventions were sometimes to always helpful in promoting teamwork and collaboration and improving job satisfaction.

This study is one convenience sample of faculty at one school of nursing, so the results are not generalizable. However, it does substantiate the findings of other research studies on gratitude showing that gratitude does increase job satisfaction. Another limitation is that there were no psychometrics available on the survey to establish the reliability and validity of the tool. We recommend further research on gratitude interventions in different settings to find out whether job satisfaction, collaboration, and teamwork increase.

Conclusion

Implementing gratitude into the work environment is an easy and inexpensive intervention to help create a positive and appreciative culture. The response from faculty was overwhelmingly positive and the study found that work and home environments were improved by practicing gratitude. The gratitude discussions resulted in faculty communicating more openly, thus deepening appreciation of each other in a way that would not have occurred otherwise. Job satisfaction was increased by practicing an attitude of gratitude through improved teamwork and feeling more appreciated by administration. As Emmons and McCullough (2003) pointed out, it is not possible to focus on the negative if you are focused on the positive.

References

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Comparison of t Tests for Questions on Pre- and Postsurvey

Mean (SD)t2-Tailed Significance

Presurvey (n = 51)Postsurvey (n = 31)
Leaders' expression of gratitude3.633 (0.755)4.161 (0.583)−3.516.001
Self-expression of gratitude3.776 (0.587)3.968 (0.482)−1.595.115
Job satisfaction ratings3.750 (0.868)4.129 (0.763)−2.068.042
Authors

Ms. Stegen is Assistant Professor, and Ms. Wankier is Assistant Professor, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Amy Stegen, MSN, RN, Assistant Professor, Weber State University, 3875 Stadium Way, Dept. 3903, Ogden, UT 84408-3903; e-mail: amystegen@weber.edu.

Received: November 07, 2017
Accepted: January 25, 2018

10.3928/01484834-20180522-10

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