do you say thank-you often enough at work?

A reader writes:

I wanted to share a tradition with you that I started based on your advice. Every year I block off an hour in the couple days before Thanksgiving to send short emails to the colleagues who have done wonderful things in the past year, helped me out, or inspired me in specific ways. The response is always a warm one, and a few others have even started similar practices. You often mention the value that comes from a personal, specific note that calls out positive behavior, and it’s proven true in our office.

Thank you for sharing this and other wonderful advice. Your blog has made me a better team member and manager and I am thankful for your thoughtful, open-minded, and honest advice every day!

I recommended this a few years back, and I’m so glad to hear someone is doing it!

When you work with people who make your job easier or are simply a joy to spend 40 hours a week around (which is no small feat), it’s worth talking the time to thank them! For one thing, when you express appreciation to people, you’re reinforcing their actions and making it more likely that you’ll see more of the same in the future. For another, by being vocal about your thanks, you’re being a good coworker yourself, because most people want to feel valued and appreciated at work.

Plus, showing gratitude will probably strengthen those work relationships even further, or can even rebuild one that has been showing strain. People tend to feel kindly toward people who make a point of recognizing their work, and it’s a lot tougher to be annoyed by someone who recently directed warm praise your way. Vocal appreciation can be a key part of building and maintaining relationships that not only make your life at work more pleasant, but also can help you down the road with things like networking, job leads, and references. (To be clear, those potential pay-offs aren’t the reason to do it! They’re just nice side benefits.)

So with Thanksgiving upon us, why not take the time to thank coworkers who have made your work life easier or more enjoyable? Here are three ways to do it that will probably get you some appreciation in return.

1. Send a thank-you note. Handwritten thank-you notes have become so rare these days that sending one can make a real impression. With a coworker, you don’t need to put it in the mail (in most offices that would be overkill), but a thoughtful handwritten note popped in someone’s in-box or left on their chair can have a big impact. Many people appreciate notes like this so much that they keep them for years. I still have notes I received years ago that make me glow every time I look at them.

If a handwritten note doesn’t feel like your style, there’s no reason you can’t use email to say the same thing. It might not have quite the same oomph, but if you take the time to write out in detail what you appreciate your colleague for (as opposed to just a quick “thanks for your help with the Jones project!”), it may be just as treasured.

2. Talk to your coworker face-to-face. Again here, specificity is key. Don’t stop at something like “thanks for staying late to help me last week.” Talk in detail about what you appreciated and why. For example: “I really appreciate how much effort you put into helping me work through the gala plans last week. You asked such good questions, and hearing about your experience planning events in the past made me realize I can be approaching our vendors much more effectively on this one. I feel like the plan is on track now and a lot of stickiest problems have been solved, and I’m really grateful for your help.”

Including real detail about what you appreciated and why makes your gratitude more meaningful, and is likely to stay with the person longer.

3. Email your coworker’s manager. If you’ve ever received praise from a client or colleague and thought to yourself, “I wish my manager could hear this,” you know why this one is important. Letting a coworker’s manager know that she has done great work – either on a specific project or, more broadly, about how strong her work is in general – can be hugely helpful for that person. Managers often take this kind of feedback into account when writing performance evaluations and contemplating raises, and it can also contribute to the overall sense the manager has of the person’s work. Of course, make sure to cc your colleague when you send this email, so that she’s able to see the praise herself too!

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I have a coworker who does this. When I have days where smashing my face in with a shovel would be a far less painful way to get through the day, I’ve gone back through and read them. It’s really nice.

    I always send thank you’s around Christmas, since that’s when I started. It started after I’d made it through a year – as a way to thank those who helped me through. It’s since turned into a tradition because, honestly, I think people need to know they’re appreciated. (I’ve also emailed managers when someone has made my job easier because that’s just as important!)

    1. Midge*

      I have a kudos file in my email. I’m pretty sure Alison suggested this at some point. When I’m having a rough day, I go back and read nice emails from people thanking me for my work. It’s so nice.

  2. thanksgreeting*

    I really like this idea! What’s a suggested script to start the email off with that doesn’t sound too … cheesy, but also acknowledges that the event might have also occurred months ago? “As the year comes to a close, I just wanted to thank you for your work on X or let you know you really inspired me with Y?”

    1. Let's Sidebar*

      I also fear the cheese and struggled to find something that is sincere but direct. I’m planning to send these before the holiday, so am using a framing like this;
      “During this time of giving thanks, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you. *2-3 personalized sentences about the individual and their attributes and contributions*
      I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!”

    2. Laura*

      My go to is “In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to share how thankful I am to have you as a coworker/team member/boss/mentor/colleague.” And then go from there! If you’re referencing back to an event from moons ago you can tie it back to a permanent trait: “You are always so cheerful and eager to help in times of need, like when you stayed through the weekend this summer to finish the chocolate teapot design.”

  3. Jillociraptor*

    In a previous job, there was an organization-wide tradition of sending appreciation on Valentine’s Day. It was a really lovely thing.

    1. zora*

      ooo Valentine’s Day! That is so smart, and also seems like a more convenient time because people aren’t rushing to try to get out the door for the holiday. I might bring this idea up to my company this year!

  4. Luna Lovegood*

    What a lovely thing to do.
    I had a teacher in middle school who, one lesson, got us to stick a piece of paper to our backs and have the rest of the class write compliments on it. It was really nice to read and it taught us how to pay real, meaningful compliments to each other.

    1. Cassie*

      I had a HS teacher who made us submit classmate compliments to her, and she typed them out for us anonymously. DECADES later I still want to know who made one incredibly poetic comment about me. It’s way too specific to share the exact wording, but it was haunting and fascinating to know someone saw me in such a way.

  5. k.k*

    This is a really lovely idea. It’s one thing to get acknowledgment from your supervisor, but there’s something extra special about hearing that others appreciate what you do. It’s a great little moral boost.

  6. B*

    This is a lovely tradition. When I do this I cc or bcc the manager so they are aware of my appreciation. As well, when I first started working a colleague suggested I keep a folder of all the nice emails I receive. When I am having a bad day I go back through them, so helpful.

  7. AnotherJill*

    I do think you have to be a little careful. I’ve had a couple of coworkers who had a “thank you for your work on this” mantra that they used often and indiscriminately. One used it as a signal that he was about to piss all over something you did ( “thank you for your work on this….. but”). Delivered sparingly with true warmth, coworker thanks are very meaningful, otherwise it becomes cringy and meaningless.

  8. anonanners*

    We try to do public declarations several times a year at my office by posting anonymous notes in our common space. The biggest times are at Thanksgiving (what are you thankful for) and Valentine’s (what do you love about our office/coworkers). It’s really nice to see general warm feelings, and it also feels really good to get publicly called out (ex. Boss of anonanners is always willing to answer Qs)

  9. Weekday Warrior*

    When I was a new and younger manager of a challenging team, one of my older reports took the time to drop by my office to tell me that he “really admired” me, along with a few specifics. 20 years later (!), this still makes me glow. It’s hard to complement “up” but I’ve tried to do the same when warranted.

  10. justsomeone*

    This is a lovely tradition!
    I recently launched an internal recognition/thank you mechanism as a way to encourage our employees to recognize the small ways their coworkers go above and beyond for them throughout the year, rather than just trying to remember during the once-a-year call for customer service recognition. It’s been really lovely to see people recognize their coworkers for helping them out, or going the extra mile for a customer.

  11. T3k*

    My current boss thanks me all the time, even for things that are my job (like he’ll come in, ask me to check something or do something that’s one of my main tasks and before he goes he always says thanks). I was taken back the first couple weeks of this, but after dealing with past bosses who never said a simple thank you for shoving a literal last minute project on me (that they knew a month in advance no less) it feels nice.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      One of the first things I noticed about my new boss was how careful he was to thank us for even small-but-annoying things. It definitely made for a nice first impression of him.

  12. Phoenix Programmer*

    I do a lot of these but I worry I may be too thankful and sending mediocre performers the wrong message. I have had a few people I make a point of thanking get real sore and unhelpful the moment I find an issue or mistake in their work.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      You can use it as a way to reinforce good behaviour. Many mediocre workers just haven’t seen that its worth the effort to put in more effort as there is no benefit that they can see. I’d just be careful to keep your thanks and your critiques separate.

      Another thought if several people have the same negative reaction to your corrections then your delivery of them might have some room for improvement. Not necessarily but it doesn’t hurt to take a look in the mirror or maybe get some feedback on your feedback giving. But they could also just be really bad at taking correction, unfortunately that’s not something that is modeled/taught.

      1. SS Express*

        So true about the first part. I used to work in an organisation where feedback was generally saved for performance reviews and was mostly negative. Things that were simply on track were ignored, anything you’d done super well might get a brief mention, then you’d get a list of things you’d done wrong (too late to fix them, of course). By the end of my time there I admit I was slacking off and could rightly be considered a mediocre worker. I was doing the bare minimum and sometimes not even that, because why bother going above and beyond 99% of the time when all I’m going to hear about is the one tiny thing that went wrong?

        Now I work in an organisation with a huge culture of giving positive feedback (though people are also good at giving negative feedback when necessary – and it’s usually constructive and timely). On a recent project the manager thanked me at every step in the process, reiterated her thanks at the end and mentioned specific things I had done well, and shared all this with my direct manager. She even gave me chocolates after I had to stay back one night (and honestly it wasn’t even all that late, and we get time in lieu anyway). Unsurprisingly I am super motivated to work hard at this job because I know it actually counts for something, and nobody would call me a mediocre worker now.

  13. Midwest Red Sox Fan*

    This very morning, I PROFUSELY thanked my cube neighbor for pointing out a humongous error that I made. It was totally fixable (whew!), but one of those things that it was way better to get to ASAP.

    She seemed surprised that I was thanking her, but she totally saved my tushie. :-)

  14. Fiennes*

    20 years ago, during the last weeks of my grandfather’s life, he received a letter from someone he’d served in WWII with. My grandfather had been an electrical engineer who helped set up radio stations on newly-claimed territory in the specific; the writer had then been a kid barely of age to serve, assigned to assist with that. The writer came from a poor background and had little family. He had been planning on staying in the army, but my grandfather told him, “You’re smart. You understand these concepts as fast as I can explain them. You need to go to college.” 45 years later, this guy had dug up my grandfather’s address to tell him he had gone to college on the GI bill — and had in fact wound up a professor of engineering at an Ivy League school. The letter contained a photo of the man with his wife, kids and grandkids, and concluded, “You made my whole life possible.” We were all around my grandfather in his last days, but I’m not sure anything we did gave him as much comfort and joy as that letter.

    Kind of off-topic, I know, but just wanted to add that saying thanks is *always* good, and share a nice story at the holiday.

    1. Let's Sidebar*

      Wow. What an incredible story. It actually made my eyes well up! Thank you for sharing.
      I’m so happy this thread came up today. I’ll be giving thank you notes to all my reports tomorrow. :)

    2. SL #2*

      This story is all sorts of amazing, right up to that last line in the letter. And what timing, too, that the letter got to your grandfather before he passed.

  15. Master of None*

    Our company actually has a great tradition where we have a “thank you” form that we submit each quarter for employees who have gone above and beyond or done something special for us. These all get reviewed by our executive team and awards are given based on their rating/feedback. This is great because not only does the person get acknowledgement/thanks from a peer for their work, but it immediately gets put in front of our executive team so they are made aware of things that might have escaped their notice in the day to day. It can be a little campy and low stakes like “Michelle brought me coffee ahead of a big meeting” or important like “Stephanie created an amazing process to cut our internal administration time in half”, but i definitely make more of an effort to document when my coworkers have been doing things i’m thankful for knowing that our executive team will see it (and wants to see it).

    1. the gold digger*

      We have one of those! I usually send emails directly to the person and CC the boss, but I just learned about that system and wrote in about the amazing guy in HR who looked up our company RX code when I called him from the line at Walgreen’s.

      My other options were to pay full price for the drugs or go home, find the stupid information online and print a card (because they don’t send us the cards anymore), and then return to the drugstore to stand in line again.

      He saved me a ton of time and aggravation and I really appreciated that.

  16. I Coulda Been a Lawyer ;)*

    Our office is usually action-packed, but about an hour before he leaves on Friday, my manager always asks if there’s anything I need from him before he goes, and then summarizes the insanity we dealt with, thanking me for specific outcomes or behaviors. And outsiders ask why I like working for him…

  17. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    I work in IT, so our ticketing system is widely used internally as well as externally. We get random surveys every so often, and I think it’s a great chance to talk specifically about an awesome thing a coworker did, in a way that gets back to her manager. I try to do it face to face as well, but those surveys go into our performance reviews as well so I try to take the time to fill them out as a way to thank someone.

  18. anon for this*

    I’m going to be a wet blanket because while I think this idea has good intentions, I take effusive thanks around Thanksgiving or the winter holidays as less than genuine. People tend to go out of their way to do nice things or say what they’re thankful for on the holidays and it sort of means less to me than if they do it after I help them with something or randomly during the year.

    I know coworkers who only thank me in November and December, and it comes off as more for their benefit than mine. Obviously, I don’t think this is the case for everyone, but even so.

    1. Weekday Warrior*

      I know what you’re saying. I think the insincerity risk is always there but heightened at this time of year. At any time, I think providing specifics really helps up the “meaningful” impact.

      When I was younger in my career and even now, I didn’t much like thank you cards and such from bosses. Much preferred specific in the moment appreciation. I did appreciate the gesture though as some folks are just awkward.

  19. Jo*

    When I finished my first ever project for my first ever manager, she was full of praise and I told her I wouldn’t have achieved what I did without Fergus and Wakeen taking time to help out and answer questions and generally mentor me as a baby dev. “Really?” she said. “In that case you should email their managers to let them know how much you appreciated their help.” I did and it cemented good relationships with those departments for me the whole time I worked there and I’ve always been grateful for that advice!

  20. Formica Dinette*

    I love this! For coworkers who are generally exceptional, I send a thank you note and cc their manager shortly before performance review season rolls around.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah, if you want to maximize your timing this is the way to go! Do it in mid October, around here. I actually mentioned to my bosses’ boss how much I enjoy our current boss (he’s new) during review period. Mostly because I don’t want him to leave and have to break in a new one!

  21. aett*

    I did something like this earlier this year. Three people in my office shared the same birthday: two of my bosses, and one coworker who was my backup for some of the more annoying duties in the office (and who was very helpful in general). I had been taking more days off than I would have liked, between illnesses and other family difficulties, and these three people in particular had been really great about everything. Hell, just a few months before this, I had been promoted (which is partially why I felt so guilty about the time off).

    Anyway, I gave them all personal birthday cards with notes about how much I appreciated their help and understanding. They seemed to like it and I’m very glad that I did it.

  22. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I really love that my workplace has a system in place to recognize and give public (and private) thank yous. We all have accounts and are given “points” to award to one another for helping out, going above and beyond, really taking our core values to heart, etc. The points can be cashed in for a wide variety of things from gift cards to extra vacation time. It’s lovely to be able to tell a person how grateful you are that they covered you while you were out or that they did a killer job on the X project.

  23. MsMaryMary*

    I worked with a woman who celebrated Feedback Friday. Every Friday she sent an email of positive feedback to at least one coworker. It might be one quick note or a few detailed emails, but she did it every week. She worked on a centralized team with different client teams depending on the project, so she interacted with a number of different people. She made a point of including the associate’s manager on the email as well. She felt it was a nice, positive way to end her week and she felt it gave her additional capital when she did have constructive feedback to give.

    1. Fiennes*

      This I think is important. If you give praise and kudos when warranted, it adds to your credibility (because everyone wants to believe the praise!) *and* prevents your concerns from being written off as simple negativity.

  24. Sualah*

    My company has an internal e-card system where you can send things like birthday wishes, job anniversary cards, but also thank yous and kudos and things like that. Sometimes it’s cheesy, but it really can be nice to get one in your email, and it defaults to copying the manager (although you can remove that) which is nice, too.

  25. Kai Jones*

    I am at a new job since May, after being at the same employer for 28 years. This place is so appreciative! Not every single task or email, but probably 80% of them, I get a response of “thank you Name.” When the office manager sends out an email asking for extra help for somebody, the person who responds gets a thank you to all office from both the OM and the person who needed help. It’s been so easy to transition into thanking people who’ve helped me, taught me something or just walked by and asked whether I had any questions!

  26. DivineMissL*

    At the end of each year, I have considered doing this; but I have been held back by the concern that if I send notes to 25 co-workers who I appreciate, the other 15 who I just don’t interact with much and the other 10 who I merely tolerate will be mad that they didn’t get one, and it will come back to haunt me later (the “no good deed goes unpunished” rule). How to avoid this?

    1. SL #2*

      In a situation where you’re worried about the optics, I would default to an email thank-you, not a handwritten card. No one else besides the recipient will know whether or not you sent them an email.

    2. SS Express*

      If you’re worried you could mark one day a month for thanking one or two people who were especially helpful to you that month. It’s much harder to pull the “everyone else got a thank you, she left me out on purpose” when only a couple of people get them at a time and it’s clearly tied to a specific occasion (even if the feedback itself is about something general).

  27. Lesser Tiffany*

    Would you guys thank your CEO this way? I’d like to start but I’m not sure the etiquette as a mere underling

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Hmm, I’d watch this because it’s easy to come across as sucking up. I’m sure there’s a way to do it well (especially if you are really genuine or if you work closely with them). You could note how thankful you are to work at a supportive workplace, or something, but I don’t know about thanking them personally if you’re not involved in their day to day work.

  28. peachie*

    We started a formal ‘thank you’ program in my office a year or two ago, and I like it. It’s simple; there are just note cards you fill out and tack on the break room bulletin board, and every so often, we read them all at staff meetings and do a drawing or two for gift cards. It’s nice–of course it makes people feel more appreciated, but I think it also makes everyone more likely to express gratitude.

    1. DoDah*

      We do this also. What I don’t like is that our Art Director uses the program to give kudos to her team. Which she does in lieu of actually advocating and managing for her team.

  29. Chemnut*

    I was once serving temporarily in an administrative position outside my usual area, to help a group complete a long-neglected job. When it had been successfully completed, I invited the department secretaries who had done the bulk of the work to come to my office for a coffee break. I served some coffee cake and coffee and told them the gathering was to thank them for their hard work. One woman said, “If I’d known I’d be thanked, I’d have worked harder. No one ever thanked us before.”

    Seemed to me that that went a long way to explain why the problem had arisen in the first place.

  30. NotAnotherManager!*

    Thanking people is one of my mother’s things. It was impressed upon me from a very young age that you should express appreciation when someone helps you (or, because I’m Southern, and manners are just as important as making sure people don’t walk away from your table hungry), and that it costs you absolutely nothing so promptly and sincerely thank people.

    As a manger, I think it’s important to acknowledge when people do things right (just like you’ve got to address things that go wrong). Just today, I passed along incredibly kind words that I got for one of my folks along with a short note of thanks to her for making the time to help a team besides her own and for knocking it out of the park. A copy also goes into her evaluation file. I don’t know if people care, but I don’t anyone on my team to think that their efforts aren’t acknowledged or appreciated.

    I also had a team that had a horrific month earlier this year that included loss of weekends, holiday work, and extensive overtime. It is a highly specialized area, so temps weren’t an option to relieve the pressure. Every single person on the team got a monetary gift of at least $100, two compensatory days off, a catered thank-you lunch, and a handwritten thank you note mentioning their specific contributions. I went to see one of them yesterday, and the note was pinned up on their board.

    I just think it’s so, so important to thank people for what they do for you. It costs so little, and feeling under appreciated sucks.

  31. Lumen*

    In my family of origin, I was not thanked or rewarded for doing household chores or contributing to family life in normal, everyday ways. In the opinion of my parents, people shouldn’t get thanked for doing what is expected of them.

    One of my recent jobs had a ‘kudos’ system in place where we could publicly recognize each other. Early on, the boss took everyone to task for using it too much, rather than only for above-and-beyond acts of workplace heroism. Some of us (me included) got special talking-tos about words he didn’t think we should use in our kudos and things he didn’t think we should bother to thank our coworkers for.

    At a school I once worked at, we had a student whose father coached a national sports team. He visited the staff during an in-service week and gave a talk about managing groups of people who rely on you to help them grow – whether that was your students or your co-teachers. One thing he said was: “No matter what else happened that day, thank people for doing their jobs and doing them well.”

    Guess which philosophy stuck with me the most? Guess which philosophy made for a better work environment? Guess which one made me more pleasant to work with?

    I try to live by the idea that if I have a positive (and non-intrusive) thought about someone, I should share it with them. There is usually no reason not to. Especially at a time of year when we’re invited to focus on gratitude.

  32. Kj*

    When I work closely with a school, I do this with teachers/school counselors at the end of the year. I send it to the higher-ups at the district who supervise the teachers and the teachers.

  33. ThursdaysGeek*

    And in that spirit, thank you Alison for this blog and the community you have encouraged here. You are appreciated by so many of us.

  34. Nonyme*

    I quit a job about a year ago because my boss NEVER said thank you, no matter what I did. It didn’t matter how much above and beyond I went, I got no acknowledgement.

    The final straw was the day my boss called me in to cover for someone who no-call no-showed. It was inconvenient but I cancelled my plans (which included attending a neighborhood block party) and it was my only day off for a couple of weeks (part time employee, but they still managed to work me every day of the week.)

    Shortly after showing up, I made a minor error, and the boss started chewing me out for that error and every other mistake I’d made since the day I started, and telling me what a screw-up I was and a horrible worker. Apparently, she’d been taking notes. I’d only been there three months and had never worked retail before (this was a crappy retail job at a very large big box retailer) so I’d made a few errors — and it didn’t help that the company’s computer system is a buggy and user-unfriendly nightmare. She was completely over the top, to the point where I was in fear of losing my job on the spot, and I ended up angry-crying (not something I normally do at work!) and stomping off to HR on the spot … where the HR rep immediately sided with me, called my supervisor in, and cleared things up. My supervisor blamed her behavior on PMS.

    The HR rep thanked me for coming in on my day off, but my supervisor NEVER did … and that was the day I started looking for another job LOL. I never did hear “thank you” from that lady one time in the six months I was there. Or, “Good job,” or ” Nice work,” or anything similar — just an unending stream of criticism right up to my last day.

  35. Delta Delta*

    I worked for a boss who rarely, if ever, thanked anyone. Then one year around the holidays he sent out this sort of cheesy, very out of character, weird thank you email. Nobody knew what to do with it. It was not like him and it seemed oddly insincere. So nobody respond, except the office apple-polisher. She later told me the boss was angry that people didn’t respond. It was all very awkward.

  36. Basically Useless*

    I work night audit at a hotel, so not in an office. I make sure I **always** thank my security guard and night cleaners when I ask them to do something because without them I am screwed.

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