The Most Underutilized Tool in Making People Happier at Work

Every language has a word for “thanks.” It’s one of the few concepts that works in a hut in Bali, a London skyscraper or a mini-mart in Peoria. In North America, we have an actual day of thanks in March—Employee Appreciation Day. It’s a chance to thank the people who make your business possible: Your team.

By now there’s enough statistical evidence that recognition done right plays a critical role in engaging employees and creating high-performance cultures. Our research shows it also creates enhanced feelings of trust and communication in employees. But it’s hard to benefit from the impact of gratitude if you don’t do it.

No one knows this better than Kirt Walker, president and chief operating officer of Nationwide Financial in Columbus, Ohio. Chester was working with Kirt and his amazing leadership team at a meeting a few months ago when he issued this challenge: “Lets make sure we thank our people.”

He then gave them a great way to accomplish the task: He asked them to consider writing a handwritten note to every direct report, expressing specifically what that employee has done to help the organization thrive.  Kirt promised he was going to do it himself. I love it when leaders lead by example.

As Kirt knows, great service will only happen if we keep our employees engaged and focused. And a handwritten note costs almost nothing, but can be a very personal, very powerful way to convey gratitude. It is a warm conversation that is all about you, it doesn’t beep at you, distract you, or pull you away to do something else.

Letters and notes we’ve received have found their way into our journals and onto the walls around our desks. They are constant reminders of the people we work with who have become more than associates, they are now friends. One of Chester's favorite notes came from a colleague—Mike Goodson—who knew he was struggling. After telling Chester specifically how he thought he added value to the world, he summed up with a few lines we will never forget: “Chester, you aren’t just great. In the pantheon of greatness you are the greatest. You, my friend, are Spartacus.” Chester laughed, admittedly choked up a little, and Mike's handwritten note is still hanging prominently on his wall years later.

Whether in our personal or public lives, specific and sincere notes can validate the ones we count on the most, those we care about. It takes so little time and the return far outweighs the effort.

So, wherever you live on this planet, why not use Employee Appreciation Day as your day to say thanks? Take a moment to look around you. Give thanks to your team members, your employees, your clients. Send a note of thanks to your leader for those paychecks that keep coming or the assignments and the trust he or she gives you. Send thanks to the network of professional relationships you’ve built in your industry. Giving “thanks” has never been more appropriate. And don’t forget friends and family too.



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