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🙏🏽 Why We Should Say Thank You All Year Long
Strategies and Perspectives for Expressing Gratitude at Work
I grew up in the South where thank you notes are as common as iced tea. I was taught to write thank you cards after receiving a gift and when a teacher helped me with homework before the school day began.
When I started working, this ritual continued — I wrote a thank you note to a recruiter after an interview and followed up with a mentor who shared guidance with me. Saying thank you mattered even more so because I worked in philanthropy where we appreciated donors for volunteering their time, serving on boards or giving generously to causes.
Sending a thank you message takes less than five minutes and has long-lasting returns.
As Thanksgiving approaches in the United States, we specifically take time to express gratitude. But, I believe in a working world where we say thank you all year long. Here’s why, when and how to express gratitude with guidance from professionals in philanthropy, career coaching, finance, social impact, marketing and communications.
There’s science behind the power of saying thank you — here are three reasons why from psychologists:
In the Hurry Slowly podcast, Jocelyn K. Glei interviews Wharton Professor and Author of Give and Take, Adam Grant, about how appreciation can motivate us not just at work, but in our professional relationships.
“We dramatically underestimate how powerful appreciation is. For instance, just getting a simple thank you after you give somebody feedback on a job application cover letter. Would you have guessed that just the words ‘thank you’ would be enough to not only lead to a 50% increase that they’re willing to help you again, but also then make them more likely to help somebody else who reaches out?”
2. Helps our Happiness and Builds Trust
In Greater Good Magazine, Jill Suttie writes about Sara Algoe of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who identified “The Ripple Effects of a Thank You” in her studies.
“Researchers studying gratitude have found that being thankful and expressing it to others is good for our health and happiness. Not only does it feel good, it also helps us build trust and closer bonds with the people around us. These benefits have mostly been observed in a two-person exchange — someone saying thanks and someone receiving thanks.
Now, a new study suggests that expressing gratitude not only improves one-on-one relationships, but could bring entire groups together — inspiring a desire to help and connect in people who simply witness an act of gratitude.”
3. Cultivates Kind Cultures
In Harvard Business Review, research on positive psychology shows how gratitude — especially from leaders — strengthens workplace cultures, according to Lauren R. Locklear, Shannon G. Taylor and Maureen L. Ambrose from the University of Central Florida.
“Managers should emphasize the importance of expressing thanks and appreciation at work. Cultivating a culture of gratitude won’t just boost employees’ well-being and performance.”
📅 When to Say Thank you
It’s important to say thank you often for numerous types of help. Here are a few examples of when it really matters to show appreciation:
Job Interview: After an interview, write to the person you spoke with directly.
Informational Interview: When you talk to someone for advice about your career or ask for help with a project.
New Job: When you get a new job and someone has been a reference for you or supported you in your search.
Great Project Partner: When a peer has contributed in a meaningful way to a project.
Drive-By Consult: When a colleague quickly helps you out at the last minute to solve a problem.
Kindness: When a peer goes out of their way to check on you during a difficult time.
🖊️ How to Say Thank You Often
In order to create a ritual of saying thank you, it needs to become part of your routine. Begin with once a week or go all in with a 30-day Gratitude Challenge — Artist and Author Dani DiPirro of Positively Present has been encouraging people to publicly express appreciation on social media for 12 years! Learn more about her story.
Here are a few recommendations to set you up for thank you success:
24-Hour Rule: In philanthropy, my mentors taught me to follow up within 24 hours. There’s an immediate impact of acknowledging someone quickly. But, remember not to do it instantly!
Friday Calendar Review: Take a look at your calendar at the end of the week, take note of the people you met with and ensure proper follow-up has happened. When in doubt, say thank you.
Text/Email/Chat Review: However you communicate with colleagues, it’s likely you have many messages. Take time to review who you’ve talked to in a week and make sure you’ve followed up with them.
Thank You Channel or Group: Depending on your internal communications platform, there should be a public way to express gratitude at your organization. If there’s not one, consider starting it! Then, once a week write public recognition to someone who made an impact on you.
Draft Template: Appreciation must be personalized, but you can have a basic template to get you started each time. Think fill in the blank so that you can build meaningful phrases into your note of gratitude.
Send a Card: This can be a hard copy or a virtual card. There are a lot of great tools to make this simple. For internal cards, consider working with your organizaton’s Design team to create custom cards that can be personalized.
Give a Small Gift: For extra special moments, find something special to show appreciation. It doesn’t have to be very expensive, but it should be meaningful — a souvenir from a project, a children’s book that reminds you of them as Carolyn Clark did for her team or a $5 cup of coffee/tea gift card.
Here are six perspectives on gratitude from professionals in the field of philanthropy, career coaching, finance, social impact, marketing and communications. They share how expressing thanks can enrich your current and future work community, friendships and even your own life.
⏳ Recognize and Appreciate Time
“Gratitude is critical in all aspects of life, but especially in the workplace. If someone goes out of their way to support you, in a task or in your development as a professional, they are taking time and effort away from their own ‘to do’ list… and that has to be recognized and appreciated.” - Ethel Weiner
🎉 Build Culture and Cultivate Relationships
“It's important to teach children in what contexts they say thank you. It's more than just, "Say thank you to grandma for that gift." It's more like, "now how do we respond when someone does something nice for us or gives us something?" I see it the same way in the workplace.
Although we are paid employees at our organizations and ultimately accountable to someone else, isn't it important to make people feel valued, appreciated, and seen as they go about their workdays? Saying thank you in the workplace with context can help improve culture and engagement, further cultivate business relationships, and instill a bit of kindness.” - Shane Dunn
☀️ Brighten a Day and Acknowledge Belonging
“A genuine thank you in the workplace goes a long way. When you get specific and let people know what they did and how it impacted your world in a positive way — large or small — you brighten their day, as well. Your gesture of recognition can send a signal that you really ‘see’ the other person, which is a core human longing and a key ingredient for building meaningful connections at work and in life.” -Rachel Elam
🔮 Be Intentional and Look to the Future
“Gratitude has numerous health and well-being benefits but it's also beneficial for getting things done in the workplace. Giving thanks and showing sincere appreciation for your colleagues and peers has personal benefits. It forces you to intentionally think about the work you are doing, who is making an impact, and what specifically you appreciate about what they did.
It uncovers possibilities for future opportunities as a result of the intentional thought and reflection. It's very easy to keep working and to move onto the next project, but taking a moment to give thanks and voice it slows you down and makes you more aware. Vocalizing gratitude and saying thanks towards others helps them understand what they are doing well and gives them confidence in what they are doing. It also makes others aware, that you see them, and are grateful for it, so that they feel recognized and heard, which is a powerful feeling.
With respect to informational interviews, anyone who is giving you 30 minutes of their time to chat is not doing whatever else is on their priority list for the day and giving your their time and attention so I think it's important regardless of how the conversation goes to demonstrate your appreciation for their willingness to give you some of their time (which is arguably one of the most valuable resources one could give).” - Al Dea
🖼️ Share Impact, Appreciate Experts & Remember Friends
“As a fundraiser for cancer research, I know it is crucial to be sure you're not only always saying thank you to donors but also showing your appreciation in a variety of ways. Make sure the donor knows the impact of their gift. Share updates, reports, stories, examples of how they are involved in transforming the cause they've chosen to support. There are so many incredible and worthy institutions to give to — make sure to communicate your appreciation that they chose to work with you.
Outside of working with donors and families, I also want my colleagues to know I appreciate their time and their expertise. If a colleague chooses to meet with me to discuss a situation, brainstorm, or collaborate about how we can do something together or do something better, be sure to send a note wrapping up, clarifying next steps, and thanking them for their time! No one wants to feel unappreciated or taken advantage of.
Don't forget friends, too! Outside of work, if you ask friends to support a fundraising event you're participating in, often they will choose to give to support *you,* as well as the cause you're passionate about. Make sure you're thanking them! People want to know you appreciate their efforts. Show them that they are part of a group of people who together will make positive change.” - Riana Goren
🧡 Be Better Together
“One of my favorite aspects of working in philanthropy is how acceptable it is to espouse gratitude endlessly. Saying thank you renews our sense of togetherness. When we thank someone, or are thanked, we acknowledge that we are better together and our team grows stronger. With the donor community, saying thank you is critical to fostering people's sense of belonging within the organization. In my experience, there are few experiences at work more motivating than shared appreciation. A culture of thanks boosts morale, reinforces our humanity, and unifies us around our common mission.” - Chelsea Corbin
As I conclude this article on gratitude, I want to say thank you to the friends who contributed their thoughts — Ethel, Shane, Rachel, Al, Riana and Chelsea, I appreciate you. I also need to thank my "thank you mentors — the people who’ve taught me the power of gratitude — my family, Inge Reichenbach, Harold & Nicki Tanner and Ed Rosenthal.
Here’s to Thanksgiving becoming the beginning of our thank you traditions for the entire year. How do you create a community of gratitude at work? Share your ideas.