Why a heartfelt “thank you” is one of the most powerful phrases in the workplace
I am not a huge fan of reality TV. Though, given I’ve spent my career studying workplace culture, I’ve been known to catch an episode of CBS’s Undercover Boss in my day.
You may be familiar with it; this is the show where the CEO or other top leader of a large company goes “undercover” at his or her company, taking on a job such as a cashier, a sanitation engineer, or a factory line worker, to get an honest look at what it’s like to work on the front lines of their organization.
While I am always left to question just how “undercover” the bosses are as they show up for their first day of work with a wig and glasses on (and followed by a camera crew to boot), one thing that has always struck me as 100% authentic are the feelings expressed at the end of the show when the CEO comes out of hiding and delivers a heartfelt thank you to employees for their hard work.
During this climactic “reveal,” where each front-line worker sits face-to-face with the company’s top leader, the power of a sincere thank you becomes evident. The employee and the CEO are both invariably moved to tears as the CEO recounts, in detail, what he or she noticed about the employee’s hard work—and typically offers to invest in the employee’s professional development as a reward.
Whether it’s the fast food manager who made sure her store was spotless for customers, the rancher who took tremendous pride in caring for dairy cows, or the delivery person who built a solid reputation in the community with his friendly attitude and speedy service, all of these employees were highly committed to doing their jobs well. They showed a solid work ethic, a belief in the brand, and a true sense of pride in their work—all qualities that any leader seeks in their employees.
However, these employees had rarely ever been thanked for their hard work.
Thanks from the boss aren’t just the stuff of reality show reveals and warm fuzzies. Gratitude at work gives back in the form of higher performance by employees and teams. For example, in a series of experiments on gratitude, professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School and associate professor Francisca Gino of Harvard Business School found that subjects who were thanked for their input had higher levels of self-worth, were more likely to be helpful and productive.
“People might just not realize how powerful expressions of gratitude are,” said Gino. “By missing chances to express gratitude, organizations and leaders lose relatively cost-free opportunities to motivate.”
Why do the words “thank you” hold so much power? It’s partly because when a boss expresses genuine gratitude to an employee they are really saying: “I see you. I value the work you are doing. I know you’ve given of yourself so that you could give to this company. I noticed, and it’s important to me that you know that.”
And this has the power to lift us up, to keep us moving, even when the going gets tough. Saying “thank you” cuts a direct path through the noise of our jobs and our roles, building an authentic heart-to-heart connection between two human beings.
At great workplaces large and small, a consistent thread is a culture of appreciation. Saying “thank you” is engrained in the culture. It’s a regular occurrence – not something that only happens on a special occasion.
This Thanksgiving, remember the power of these two simple words for both your business and for your employees’ sense of self-worth. Thank your employees for their work, for their dedication, for bringing their unique gifts to the workplace.
It may not be captured on camera, but the result can last a lifetime.
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