Gratitude Notes: Humanizing Work

Before you read this, I want you to know that I feel emotionally empty. I write this post from a place of suspecting you feel similarly, wanting that feeling to go away, and knowing that human connection can help.

Early this morning on my walk, I listened to Eric Mosley speak with Brené Brown about Making Work Human. It left me feeling concerned about you and me. In higher education this year, we were forced to reckon with the truth about how slow adoption of technology has left the majority of our work practices light years behind industry. That realization came through the disruption caused by mandatory online teaching. Now, I say “majority” of our work practices because I know there are many of you out there who felt little to no disruption this year. You are those in the fringes who have been teaching online (and loving it).

At this moment though, I have a deeper concern about another way higher education is lagging behind industry. And it is about leadership — human-centered leadership. I suspect most of those who read this will agree and there will some of you who shake your head and say, “Nope. Not us.” If you fall into the latter group, consider yourself extremely fortunate.

There is an empathy movement afoot in industry. Eric Mosley, co-author of Making Work Human, recognizes that “People want purpose, meaning and gratitude.” And companies that grasp this are companies that have higher employee retainment and more dedicated, invested workers. He goes on to explain that, “Purpose is shared. Meaning is personal. And gratitude comes through human connection.” I feel like the conversations about the first two parts are pretty well underway in higher education. But that last part about gratitude is something we need to listen to, now more than ever.

Gratitude is relational. It is less about the series of “What I’m grateful for” posts we will be seeing on our social networks this week and more about peer-to-peer recognition at work. For when a human takes a moment to recognize another human’s actions, empathy soars within each person. Recognizing another and being seen by another adds fuel to each person’s emotional tank. And these are tanks that are dry and in desperate need of replenishing.

It’s hard for me when I hear faculty still enforcing hard, cold due dates with students amidst the pain, sadness, and loneliness that abounds this November. It’s hard for me when my own students write to me expressing gratitude for our interactions and they also say, “It’s really tough to talk to my other professors about my situation.” It’s hard for me when I see a video of a student crying about being accused of cheating after an online proctored exam. It’s hard for me when I attend meetings that adhere to a rigid agenda without making space to share how each other is doing. It’s hard for me to attend webinars where there is no space for me and other attendees to interact with each other.

Can you do something right now with me to disrupt these patterns and infuse our work lives with gratitude? It will take just a few moments and it will result in replenishing your emotional tank and that of a peer – just a little.

Think back over the past year. Recognize one or two people who did something meaningful for you at work. Anyone. Someone within your institution or someone far away. It may even be someone who doesn’t even know you. Now send that person a brief gratitude note letting them know what they did and what it meant to you. Deliver your note in any format that works – an email, a text message, a DM on Twitter, or write it on paper and stick it in the mail. Just do it.

Thank you.

6 Comments to “Gratitude Notes: Humanizing Work”

  1. Thanks Michelle…with me, it went straight to the heart. I struggled this year to do my work with the same gusto I’ve always had. I had too may things to worry about. Of course the trigger being the pandemic and the campus closure. We were told to move to remote teaching on our LMS. Webinar after webinar was held in a bid to train us for online teaching. But the students were never trained to learn on line. So I had to learn for both myself and them. That’s why I joined Twitter in April and thankfully linked up with a generous community of academics to whom I owe an unquantifiable debt of gratitude. For some of us in the global south, there’s no way one can survive without being an autodidact. When one finds things difficult, one wonders how much the case is with one’s students. Thank you for evermore.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Joyce. Your experience sounds very difficult and, I imagine, lonely too. It brings me some relief to hear your thoughts about connecting with a community through Twitter. That very much sounds like my own experience with Twitter (about 13 years ago) when I was in a career transition, trying to find “my place.” My interactions with educators on Twitter have opened my eyes to the ways that professional development can evolve through digital, informal interactions – which often grow into meaningful, caring relationships. And thank you for the note about empathizing with our students. That is such a powerful and important sub-text to this moment. Take care of yourself.

  2. I always jokingly tell my students that I spoiled graduate courses for them, because most of the other classes they will take will be like jumping through hoops. You’re right, it shouldn’t be that way.

    Rigor doesn’t mean hearthlessness.

    I am grateful for your presence online. You always bring up things I don’t take the time to express publicly.

  3. Kim Vincent-Layton

    Michelle, I really needed to hear this today. I appreciate your open heart and willingness to be vulnerable, especially in such a challenging time. This is a ‘gift’ that I will take with me not only in my professional work, but in my personal life.
    Thank you! Kim


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