What Great Bosses Know about Thanks

Here’s a Thanksgiving week question for you: When was the last time you said “thanks” to an employee? Was it within the past day? Past week?

A little appreciation can go a long way. Still, I know from my management teaching that a good number of employees think their bosses are misers when it comes to a simple “thank you.” They may be right.

Here are some reasons bosses withhold their thanks. Do any of these statements sound familiar to you?

  • Why thank people for doing what they’re supposed to do? They get a paycheck, don’t they?
  • Thanking people is fine, but only for extraordinary work. My standards are exceptionally high and I don’t want people to get complacent.
  • Thanking people leads them to expect more — like raises or bonuses. Since that’s impossible right now, I don’t want to give them false hope.
  • I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person. I tell them “If you don’t hear from me, just assume you are doing a good job.”
  • I thanked someone recently and all I got back was: “Just put it in my paycheck.” It might have been a joke, but with attitudes like that, why should I bother?
  • If I thank one person, I have to thank them all.

If you’ve said or thought those things, I urge you to reconsider. Appreciation matters more than you think, and I’m not saying this under the influence of turkey. Check the book “First Break All the Rules,” in which Gallup Organization researchers studied motivation and management. They discovered that top performers said, among other things:

  • “In the last seven days, I have received recognition and praise for doing good work.”
  • “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.”

And in “Social Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman writes:

“…people recall negative interactions with a boss with more intensity, in more detail, and more often than they do positive ones. The ease with which demotivation can be spread by a boss makes it all the more imperative for him to act in ways that make the emotions left behind uplifting ones.”

So there’s a business case to be made for thanking your staff. I don’t mean glad-handing or gushing — just your gratitude for their aptitude, attitude or fortitude. That’s the bonus over and above their paycheck. It’s the way great bosses coach — by being specific about what they’re acknowledging so the staffer will do more of it. It’s what makes people want to try things and take risks, because they have a good idea of where they stand with the boss.

There might be some people who don’t take “thanks” all that well. They may brush it off out of embarrassment or respond with sarcasm about something they’re unhappy about in the workplace. You’re smart enough to handle that and not let it stand in the way of doing the right thing for their colleagues.

And if you assume that thanking one means you must thank all, my advice is: Go for it. Look at your team. Who’s heard words of appreciation from you lately? Who have you missed lately? What might you say to them this Thanksgiving week that will make them grateful — for you?

Speaking thanks is important. Writing it can be even more powerful. In today’s podcast,”What Great Bosses Know about Thanks,” I tell a story about the personal notes I wrote to 100 staffers when I left my newsroom to join the Poynter Institute. I also share an essay of praise called “The Good Ones,” which I tucked into each of those messages:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and everywhere. You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or to any of our podcasts on iTunes U.

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