The Power of Saying “Thank You” In The Workplace
I was recently in conversation with a former client of mine who had left his previous employer after 15 years with the company. While there were a number of factors behind his decision to leave, one that stood out for me was when he shared that he had no longer felt appreciated at his last company. He had been burning the midnight oil for months on end to get a critical initiative completed for the company and did not even get a simple thank you from the senior management. I could visibly see the pain in his eyes as he shared this. In his case, the leadership might have assumed that he was being thanked by his immediate supervisor (and that was enough), or that they did not need to explicitly thank him for “just doing his job.” However, to my client it felt like they no longer valued him and did not care about him and his contributions.
When we work really hard on something and don’t receive any appreciation in return, it can be disheartening, to say the least. Unfortunately, the reality is that this scenario plays out in numerous workplaces every single day. Many employees feel underappreciated and undervalued, which can lead to disengagement, under-performance and eventually quiet quitting or resignation. Research shows that saying or writing even a simple “Thank you”can have benefits far beyond the value of the moments involved. "Thank you" can motivate, validate, and give positive reinforcement. It can help build stronger inter-personal relationships which can lead to better and stronger workplace bonds and culture. In fact, employees who receive more gratitude are more likely to go above and beyond what is in their job descriptions.
Saying “thank you” not only positively impacts the person being thanked, but also generates great physical and mental benefits for the person who is showing the appreciation and gratitude. According to Dr. Robert Emmons who is the Professor of Psychology at University of California, expressing gratitude can reduce stress hormones, lower blood pressure, improve immune function and positively impact emotional and mental well-being.
"Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all." - William Faulkner
Despite its many obvious, and not so obvious benefits, we just don’t hear enough Thank-yous, especially in workplaces. As with other aspects of a company’s culture, to nurture gratitude as an organic practice requires intention and practice. There are some key ways to express gratitude so that it positively impacts the recipient and creates the desired goodwill and momentum forward.
Make it authentic. Leaders thanking staff because they’ve been told to so does not work. It has to be delivered meaningfully and in a timely manner. In fact, if the praise or thanks is perceived to be insincere or patronizing, it can be deflating and demotivating.
Thank and acknowledge small things as well as the big achievements, individual wins as well as team successes. You don’t have to wait for a big event to express your gratitude. Taking time to say regular thank-yous as part of your interaction with others can go a long way in creating more interpersonal ease and trust.
Do it in writing when you can. According to researchers from USC Marshall School of Business, employees value written words over spoken expression of thanks because of the time and effort it takes, and the ability to save those as a record of their performance. However, above all, gratitude should be explicitly expressed, whether in writing or verbally.
When possible, follow up the thanks and appreciation with a tangible reward. Just hearing thank you might not be enough if the recipient does not feel fairly treated in terms of compensation or other non-monetary rewards. Offering avenues for tangible rewards and advancement will help retain and further engage the employee.
A culture where people don’t feel appreciated is not a healthy culture. It can overtime drain the organization of its best talent, demoralize the workforce and result in significant cost to the business. Therefore, expressing thankfulness is not just the right thing to do at a human level, it directly supports the sustainability and growth of a company as well.
Setting the intention at an individual and collective level to say sincere thanks more often and to more people at work will drive engagement, performance, results, and create an environment where people do their best work.