The Magic of “Thank You” in the Workplace

Posted by Cathy Reilly

iStock thank you bubble.jpgThe American tradition of Thanksgiving has its roots in the first simple meal that 50 English men and women and 90 Native Americans shared together in the fall of 1621 in New Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims were not celebrating their abundance. They were simply grateful that they had barely survived their first crucial year in the Americas.  Since then Thanksgiving has become deeply embedded in the American psyche.  It reminds all Americans that we are a grateful people. It also shows the value that we attribute to a simple expression of gratitude.

While we readily give thanks to friends and family we rarely express it in the one place it can be most helpful. The workplace. A word of thanks at work can be a powerful and transformative incentive. It’s like magic. Being appreciated is one of the great motivators on the job. A 2013 survey of 2,000 Americans on gratitude by the polling firm Penn, Schoen, Berland and overseen by Janice Kaplan found that 80% agreed that being thanked makes them work harder, but only 10% regularly expressed gratitude to others.  

Why is giving thanks such a great motivator on the job? 

Better than money. From the boss perspective, many feel “This is how I say ‘thank you’ to my employees. I give them a paycheck.” While money is an important compensation, it’s not the highest reward. It’s not why we want to work. It doesn’t fuel the fire inside us.

What makes us want to give our all at work?  Loving what we do, a sense of purpose in our work, and being appreciated for it. Google’s Larry Page got the highest approval ratings of any chief executive on the job review site One of the reasons is his willingness to thank people who work for him. Page has made gratitude a part of the Google culture. Google’s website lists “Reasons to Work at Google.” Two of them are “We love our employees, and want them to know it,” and “Appreciation is the best motivation.”

Tough conversation opener. Starting a difficult employee discussion with a “thank you” helps to disarm an employee and acknowledges that their efforts are noticed and appreciated. It promotes openness and not defensiveness, which is the setting you want to create for a productive discussion with the employee about the area that needs attention or improvement. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

Small investment; big return. People who give to others without looking for a reward, tend to get more back for their generosity then people who look to take from others. In other words, the gift of giving tends to come back to you several folds. There’s a huge return on this small investment into the wellbeing of your employees.

“Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. You’ll see that the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it.” Adam Grant

Always open; always free. The ability to say “thank you” is one of the most powerful and readily available assets a company or boss already has, and can easily increase. It doesn’t take a ton of training. It doesn’t require a purchase order. It doesn’t require calendaring, catering or conference room to openly express appreciation to employees in the workplace. There’s a bit of magic that gets created at work when “thank you’s”, especially when informal and impromptu, are part of the environment.  

What’s the best way to give thanks?

Be specific about what someone has done. Give honest and sincere appreciation. Empty praise is worse than no praise. True thanks reinforces something an employee has done well. There’s no better motivator for them to want to do more of it, and even better next time.

How is your organization incorporating thankfulness in its culture?

Topics: Management

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