Expressing gratitude is good for workplace culture — and when it's done right, it's a positive boost to both the giver and the receiver. Here are three ways to pack more power into your thank yous.
There's a lot I'm thankful for in my life, including the many incredible people I get to work with every day. I haven't always been consistent in expressing my gratitude toward them, but recently I've made a habit of intentionally thanking our team when I see them doing good work, not to mention the colleagues and peers who have inspired me along the way.
Expressing gratitude doesn't have to be a grand gesture. For instance, I may send a thank-you email or a handwritten card. But, more often than not, it's a quick WhatsApp, Teams or text message. I've even started incorporating heart emojis during Teams calls, which is something I never would have done a few years ago.
These may seem like small acts, but there is significant data to support the idea that gratitude is a great way to reinforce a strong workplace culture, as well as being beneficial at an individual level. Studies have shown that care and appreciation not only strengthen personal relationships but also work to boost morale, productivity and satisfaction at work.
One survey by the American Psychological Association asked employees whether they felt valued at work. Of the 1,714 adults surveyed, 93% of respondents who reported feeling valued said it motivates them to do their best work, whereas only 33% of those who didn't feel valued felt that same motivation. That's a significant difference — and it's a consistent finding from study to study.
Since I've made expressing gratitude a regular part of my leadership practice, I've discovered that showing appreciation for the contributions of others can literally transform an organization. But how you say thank you matters and can make the difference between a simple gesture and one that generates a positive business impact. Here's how.
When I worked at Yum! Brands, I witnessed firsthand the tough working conditions that restaurant servers face daily. Food service is a busy and often thankless job, so I did my part to bring positive energy into every site visit.
One of the supervisors taught me that you should always leave a restaurant more energized than you found it, so I aimed to do that by recognizing the positive things I noticed — a bright smile, a kind customer interaction or any small element of customer service that really added up.
I started writing little thank you cards, making note of a particularly positive moment or interaction, and thanking the employee for their good work or attitude. My thank yous were always discreet and personal — this wasn't like awarding a medal of recognition on stage — but what made them effective is exactly that. I never just said "good job," which can ring a bit hollow to the receiver. Instead, I pointed out exactly what I appreciated, like "thank you for your bright smile."
Offering specific praise not only communicates that you've truly seen someone's efforts or good work but also reinforces their good behavior.
Nowadays, whenever I'm in a restaurant, I often write a short thank you note to the server when I sign the bill because I know the impact it makes.
Make it timely
A few months ago, I got to take part in a charity event that had me rappelling from the top of a building in downtown Grand Rapids with an Amway entrepreneur and leader. We were both nervous and excited. But while I was absorbed in my own emotions, he was focused on those around him — and made a point of expressing his gratitude to everyone from the person who briefed us, to the one who tightened our harnesses.
It struck me that the timeliness of his expression made it all the more powerful. Despite the flurry of emotions running high that day, he took the time to express his gratitude in the moment, creating a powerful atmosphere of positivity.
When we develop a habit of giving thanks in the moment, it creates a beautiful loop of endorphin-fuelled positive energy, which can foster trust and transparency. And the best thing about timely praise is that it also benefits everyone who witnesses it — even if they're not the recipient.
Always be authentic
Automating thank yous via formal employee recognition programs is table stakes for building a workplace culture of appreciation. But I don't believe it's enough to convey authentic gratitude.
We use a tool called Spark to empower everyone to send spontaneous online thank you cards to colleagues and staff anytime they're inspired to show their appreciation. It's an easy way to share feedback and praise, but truthfully, any medium will suffice. I personally like to use social networking tools such as Instagram with entrepreneurs in my network and WhatsApp with colleagues because they allow me to be instant and direct.
Whatever medium you use to send thanks, the most important thing to keep in mind is that your gratitude must be authentic. Recipients are savvy to forced thanks and they know when you're sending it out of obligation. It's always best to do it because you feel moved to show your gratitude. And if you make your thanks specific and timely, it's bound to land well, paving the way for a more trusting, positive and productive relationship.
If you're new to an intentional gratitude practice, know that it's never too late to share heartfelt appreciation. While timeliness is ideal, even if it's a little belated, a quick message to a colleague or loved one is always a great way to start, end or energize your day. And they're guaranteed to feel the same way.