Giving Thanks at Work: Good News, Bad News; Who can tell?

Reflect on your present (workplace) blessings, of which every person has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all people have some.

— (modified from) Charles Dickens

When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.

— Willie Nelson, Musician and Singer

A Parable:

One mid-autumn day a farmer’s neighbour passed away leaving his plough horse to his friend next door. All his neighbours said, “What GOOD NEWS! Now you have a strong horse to help plough your fields.” The farmer replied, “Good news, bad news; who can tell?”

The next day his son was thrown from the horse while ploughing, breaking both his legs. The farmer’s neighbours lamented, “Oh what BAD NEWS! Now your son can’t help you plough your fields.” The farmer replied, “Good news, bad news; who can tell?”

The next day the army came to town taking all the able-bodied young men off to war, but left the farmer’s son because his legs were broken. All his neighbours rejoiced, “What GOOD NEWS! Your son did not have to go off to war!” The farmer replied, “Good news, bad news; who can tell?”

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October (Canadian-style), the last Thursday in November (American-style) or not officially at all, there’s something in the air come autumn that makes for a perfect time to reflect. As leaves start to fall, and days shorten and cool (at least in these northern latitudes) take time to give thanks and count your blessings about all that’s come before you at work this past nine months, whether or not this year has been, for you, “good news” or “bad news”; who can really tell, in the long run?

Give thanks, you may query? This year??? For what…the bad news, the stress, the pressure, the harried colleagues and clients, the worrisome economy, the fluctuating price of gas, the rising cost of living, having to do too much with now even more “too little”??? Absolutely. On a good day, or a good stretch of time at work giving thanks and counting your blessings for your terrific job, fabulous workplace environment and wonderful corporate culture may be an easy thing to do; on a bad day or bad stretch–perhaps like now–forget it! Or so you would think.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking harder for what’s good about your daily work experience in the plethora of day-to-day activities; often times those “blessings” are right under your nose.

Consider these suggestions and questions to help you ponder and act upon your workplace “thanks” giving:

1. List three things about your work for which you are grateful. If this is easy–terrific. If this contemplation brings you up empty…try harder.

2. Which of my colleagues has done something for me (either consciously or unconsciously) that has helped elevate my professional reputation, advance my career or otherwise move me forward this year?

3. Which frontline/support staff member(s), colleague(s) or person to whom I report makes my work easier to complete?

4. Who is the person that pushes up his/her sleeves and chips in (rescues me), without being asked, when I’m so crazy busy and overwhelmed that I think I’m going to “lose it”?

5. Who at work can I always count on to lighten a tense or worrisome moment and give me a much needed, good laugh?

6. Who at work has covered for me in a pinch?

7. Who at work protects me from circling vultures or sticky, politically “hot” situations?

8. Who comes to my defense or champions my cause when I’m out there on the “skinny branches”, feeling all alone with my idea, perspective on a project or suggested course of action?

9. Who effectively and authentically represents me when I’m not there to speak for myself, e.g. away sick, out-of-town, on vacation?

10. Which colleague, boss and/or client/customer trusts me to do the right thing or to do what I say I’ll do?

11. Who eggs me on? Who gives me encouragement exactly when I need it most?

12. Who expects more of me than I expect of myself?

13. Who gives me moral support when I am going through a bit of a professional “dark moment of the soul”?

14. Who seeks out and honours me by valuing my opinion?

15. When I actually take a semblance of a break on any given day, e.g. to pick up a coffee, grab a sandwich at the local “squat and gobble”, etc., who serves me in an over-the-top efficient and friendly manner, with a big cheerful smile and disposition, too?

16. Who is thoughtful enough to include me in their work plans or suggestions?

17. Who lets me know that they value my workplace contributions?

18. Who is the one that gets out of my way the best, to make it maximally possible for me to do what I need to do for the good of my team/branch/organization/company/clients or customers?

19. Who is the person that always respects my time?

20. Who at work have I taken for granted this past year; who at work really deserves some praise and thanks from me, right now?

Now that you’ve identified the “who”, consider the “what”. What are you going to do about all these people you’ve listed? Answer: Recognize these individuals as “blessings” despite your stressed-up, good news/bad news workdays and take the time to say “thanks” to at least some of these terrific individuals with whom you daily interact. Corny and mushy as it may sound, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to “give it up” and confess your thanks because you can hide behind the season (if you are an “awh shucks” kind of person)!

And the BONUS question??? If you really want to stretch your, “counting your workplace blessings and giving thanks” muscle:

Who is my biggest “bad news” workplace pain in the butt–inside the organization? outside?

Although the people who come to mind here may be the ones who make it most difficult for you to do the good work you do, they too can be viewed as blessings…as “good news”. Why? Because these “bad news people” give you the opportunity to rise above and take the “high road” in your choice of interaction and help you professionally grow with grace and class. To put it in terms of food–very fitting for Thanksgiving reflection–these “bad news” individuals can be “yeast for your bread”! These individuals, particularly, are the ones that give you the opportunity to try out those fabulous skills you learned in professional development workshops or read in management development texts this year. These individuals help you count to ten a bit slower and try a bit harder at what Stephen Covey (author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) identifies as Habit Number 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Workplace “pains in the butt” are, indeed, good yeast for your bread. They help you rise!

During the balance of this week, when you say “Happy Thanksgiving” to colleagues and cherished clients, etc., be specific. Tell them exactly why you are so grateful that you get a chance to interact with them at work (especially the ones you have listed in your twenty questions–and yes, even those people you generally consider “bad news” when they present themselves and challenge your days).

My wishes to you, dear reader, for a Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are and whenever you celebrate, no matter how formally or informally. May you have many workplace blessings to count in the balance of this year and beyond, despite that which you may sometimes find worrisome because, when it comes to those fretful issues, remember, “Bad news, good new…who can tell?”!

Give us thankful hearts…in this the season of Thy Thanksgiving. May we be thankful for health and strength, for sun and rain and peace. Let us seize the day and the opportunity and strive for that greatness of spirit that measures life not by its disappointments but by its possibilities, and let us ever remember that true gratitude and appreciation shows itself neither in independence nor satisfaction but passes the gift joyfully on in a larger and better form.

— W. E. B. Du Bois, from the book “A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles”, Conari Press, Berkeley, CA, 1994, page 51.

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