am I supposed to thank my boss for paying me?

A reader writes:

I’ve just had a mid-year profit share conversation with my boss (who majority owns the company, and note that we do not bring out the best in each other so perhaps this is just interpersonal friction) where he told me what my payment would be. This is an established, formal profit share program that you are entitled to as an employee of the business and is related to business profits, not to individual performance.

I said something like “okay, cool” and he asked what my response was. The number was in line with what I’d been led to expect, and I have pretty neutral reactions to compensation as in my role there isn’t any room for negotiation once the figures have been set. I did clarify whether he was looking for a comment on that and he said I could show at least some gratitude as he’d never heard me express my thanks after a figure was revealed (I disagree, but let’s assume he’s right).

I work in a small business of less than 20 employees so to remove a point of friction I have made a mental note to always express thanks, though I’m not sure if this is particular to my boss or is a best practice. Is this common in other firms?

From a strictly logical viewpoint, in a world where emotions are removed and everything functions according to pure logic, you wouldn’t thank your boss for making a contractually obligated profit-sharing payment.

In this world of humans with human emotions … you don’t owe a thank-you for a contractually obligated payment but it can be considered polite in a context like this one (even though the amount is pegged to business profits and not any sort of recognition of your performance). It doesn’t make logical sense for the reasons you point out — just like you don’t owe your boss gratitude for delivering your paycheck on time — but it’s a social convention, a nicety that tends to be useful for relationships and minimizes friction.

That said, your boss’s attitude about it is wrong and stems from a ridiculous paternalism on the part of some managers, as if they are dispensing your pay out of personal beneficence … when in fact they’re basically paying a bill for services rendered. It’s deeply messed up, but it’s also true that greasing the wheels of the interaction with a polite “thank you” will often pay off in good will and a smooth relationship — again, not that it should, but it does. Not with all bosses, but clearly with your current one.

If it helps, you could think of it not as “thank you for delivering this payment that you were contractually obligated to give me” and more as “I appreciate this working relationship that has borne monetary fruit for us both.”

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. AthenaC*

    I tend to think of it as “thank you for delivering this information.” Or even “thank you for recognizing my contributions with additional money.” Of course I don’t say all that, I just say “thank you.”

    1. pally*

      Exactly! The CEO (small company) personally walks around to deliver paychecks.
      So I thank him for the delivery of said check.

      1. Maggie Simpson*

        Same!! I agree that it’s good to grease the wheels, especially of small business owners

    2. Zee*

      Yeah, I’d probably say “thanks for letting me know” or something along those lines.

      1. Yikes Stripes*

        Yup, this was my first thought. At least in my head that feels like a thanks for the information and not the money.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        This was my thought too. The boss isn’t handing him money out of his own wallet, he’s just delivering the message.

      3. Aitch Arr*

        Or “that’s great news” or “good to hear.”
        That way OP is being positive but not technically thanking the boss.

      4. Elsajeni*

        Yes, something like this is usually what I say when my boss informs me of a COL raise — not exactly the same as the OP’s situation, but similarly, it’s more of an expected, standard part of my compensation than a special recognition from my boss, and he doesn’t have much individual influence over how much it is, so thanking him for the raise would feel weird. It’s a “thanks” in the same way that I sign off most emails “thanks,” you know?

    3. Bee*

      Right – I’m literally being paid a cut of the money I brought in via commission, so it’s really not something I need to express gratitude for, but I still usually say “great, thanks!” when we’re confirming amounts as basically thanks for letting me know, similar to any other time I receive information I need. It’s a very different thank you from the times when we’ve received surprise bonuses!

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      This (and “thanks for letting me now”) is also how I think of it, though in my current situation, my boss recommends some parts of my comp, so, in this particular instance, it’s more of a “thanks for going to bat for me/recognizing what I do around here”.

      I asked my spouse, because he works for the government, and they just have step/grade increases that are based on tenure, and he said he does say thanks at his reviews and means it in the “thanks for letting me know” vein.

    5. Peanut Hamper*

      My old boss was like this (“you should thank me for having a job here!” — um, no) and I used to thank him for these sorts of things.

      So out loud I was saying “thank you” but in my mind, I was saying “thanking you for not being so drunk you forgot to run payroll”.

      How you frame it in your own mind can be incredibly refreshing.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Ohmylanta did we work together at OldOldJob with the functional alcoholic owner?

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Based on what I’ve read at AAM over the years, you’ve got lots of company/commiseration with that description.

          1. starsaphire*

            Statistically it’s impossible that we/our spouses ALL worked there…

            …but it’s super comforting to think about, regardless. :)

            *solidarity fistbumps all round*

      2. DJ Hymnotic*

        One of the hitches of framing it in my own mind (and here I am thinking of my own former boss who complained that we weren’t grateful enough for the honor, nay, the blessing of working for them, and who called out of an important work function after having too much to drink the night before) is that I have absolutely terrible poker face.

    6. Rainy*

      Yeah, this is how I treat that. I say “Oh, thank you”. I *mean* “Thank you for letting me know” and if a boss needs to hear “Thank you oh great and beneficent one for conferring such an honour as regular timely payment for my work on your unworthy subordinate”, probably that’s what they will hear.

    7. mreasy*

      Yeah I think of it as more of a, thanks for telling me – just like if a coworker sent me a meeting agenda. This fact that you shared, which you didn’t share as a personal favor to me or bring about, is helpful for me to know. However, from here on out I would like us all to say, ““I appreciate this working relationship that has borne monetary fruit for us both.”

    8. Observer*

      Or even “thanks for doing this without making me do a song and dance.”

      Remember the LW who was all bent out of shape that an employee who hadn’t been paid said that she was not going to continue to work if she didn’t get paid right away?

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        That one really rubbed me the wrong way. I cannot relate to a manager who’s not all over the requisite departments when their new employee hadn’t been paid for over a month, much less relate to being angry that (1) the employee had advocated for herself (!!!!), (2) the organization was apologetic and agreed with her that it was serious and needed to be fixed ASAP (you know, labor law compliance and all), and (3) HR dared to compensate the employee for the substantial inconvenience (and please don’t sue us)… I don’t even live in the same universe as that person.

    9. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yes, exactly. It’s not a “gratitude” thank you, much the same way that not every “sorry” is an apology.

    10. tamarack etc.*

      The vast majority of us habitually delivers “thank you”s that are more a small injection of polite lubricant than a genuine expression of gratitude.

      I just find it smoother and do it more liberally when I’m the one that some service is provided for (eg. thanking a receptionist, government worker, letter carrier, shop assistant…) rather than when I’m the one who provides the service and is *due* compensation.

      My reaction would probably be a habitual “thanks”, but the manager here is ridiculous to expect it and should rethink their attitude.

    11. Tiger Snake*

      I was just coming into the comments to say the same thing.
      ‘You’ve recognised my effort, and you’re giving me an update on the process and information I needed. Both of these are things I’m glad to have received. By definition I am thankful; and therefore I say thank you.’

      I think too often people seem to associate thankfulness with exclusively grateful. But it’s not; its also happiness at having been the recipient. You received something and it benefited you, and you feel positively for having gotten that benefit. It doesn’t matter if the benefit was tangible or not.
      A hug felt nice, information was useful, an acknowledgement makes you feel appreciated and tells the little animal inside us we’re a good pack contributor; you still feel positively for having received something.

    12. Also-ADHD*

      Yeah. “Thanks for letting me know!” might be a good middle ground (and is what I’d probably say anyway, just naturally).

  2. ThatGirl*

    A run-of-the-mill thank you tends toward social lubricant anyway – not unlike asking someone how they are when you don’t really know them well or care that much. It’s a nicety. I think I thanked my boss for my merit increase in April even though it was nothing special; I definitely thanked her – more sincerely! – when she let me know of a market-rate adjustment in June, because that was her putting her neck out for me.

    Anyway, point being – should it be necessary? Not in an emotionless void. But as Alison points out, when humans are involved, so are emotions.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes. I mean my boss approved my 2 outstanding expenses claims today for my last 2 business trips in July. I thanked him for doing so promptly. It is part of his job to clear them so I don’t technically need to thank him, but I always do because we’re people and relationship maintenance matters. Sometimes we thank people for doing something they have to do anyway, because it makes them happier.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, this kind of thing is right. Think of it if you’re in a restaurant, you thank your waiter when they serve your meal. Your thanks are going to be more genuine when it’s a lovely friendly waiter, and grudging (and small tip) when they’re surly, but it’s a similar principle of saying thank you oils the social wheels.
        I mean, LW’s boss sounds like an arse, but nonetheless…

      2. Green great dragon*

        Agreed. And I’d expect my boss to thank me when I turn in work, even though I’m contracturally obliged to do so.

        Demanding gratitude isn’t a good look, but a brief thank you seems appropriate and it’s LW who wrote in.

      3. I Have RBF*


        People have commented that I thank them for doing things that are part of their job. Well, yes, I do that. Just because it’s “part of their job” doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it, especially when done promptly it makes my job easier.

        So yeah, I thank people for doing their job. That way they can know that someone appreciates what they do. Yeah, they get paid, but “Thank you” costs nothing and can smooth out a lot of the “unappreciated” vibe that a lot of people get when their jobs are “thankless”.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          This right here. A thank you costs nothing and is often appreciated. Let’s not get so hung up on what we think people deserve that we forget simple niceties that make people around us feel good.

        2. Isben Takes Tea*

          This. I thank people for doing “what they should do” because it’s still a choice that they are making; they could have chosen not to, but they did it, and I appreciate it. If it’s someone who is serving me, I say it to recognize that they are doing me a service; even if I’m paying for it, they are doing something that I would otherwise have to do myself or not have at all. The money acknowledges their labor, the thanks acknowledges their humanity.

        3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          ESPECIALLY if you live up to your commenter name. :)

          Situations with extra social friction- RBF, or being the oddball, or mutual dislike with your boss- benefit from a bit of extra social lubrication.

    2. Sara without an H*

      +100. A lot of what people sometimes complain about on this blog — ritual thank-you’s, small talk, etc. — are, indeed, social lubricant, or what I usually call social contract maintenance. Taken as a whole, they make up a low-effort system for building and maintaining bonds within a group.

      Take them away — i.e., don’t thank the boss for the bonus, refuse to talk to colleagues unless you need something from them — and see how far you get when you actually do need help or support from them.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I also find it a way to sort of…close the circle. Like you have to say something in response to stuff like that and “thank you” is the easiest way. I see it more as an acknowledgement of what the person has said or done than as really thanking them.

      That said, the boss sounds ridiculous. I doubt I’d even notice whether somebody said “thank you” for something like that or not, unless they did it in a way that made it clear they were avoiding saying “thank you.”

    4. Mill Miker*

      There’s also the thing where we say “thank you” so much for little expected things (“thanks for bringing the me the food I ordered”, “thanks for paying for the food”, etc.) that it feels kind of… pointed(?) when someone avoids it?

      We’ve got a society where a general “thank you” is the neutral response, and something intentionally neutral – like “okay, cool” – comes off as more as a deliberately negative response.

  3. ferrina*

    Your boss is being petty.

    I once worked with an employee who thought her boss should thank her for coming in to the office each day. Just….what? Yes, it’s nice to be appreciated, but you aren’t entitled to gratitude for doing the bare minimum. And upholding compensation agreements is bare minimum.

    That said, since it sounds like you and Boss butt heads on other issues, it might be worth it to try to be genuine and graceful where you can. Building up that goodwill might be a politically smart move. As previously stated, it’s nice to be appreciated, and that might soothe some of boss’s feelings.

    1. metadata minion*

      “I once worked with an employee who thought her boss should thank her for coming in to the office each day. Just….what? Yes, it’s nice to be appreciated, but you aren’t entitled to gratitude for doing the bare minimum. And upholding compensation agreements is bare minimum.”

      Yeah, that’s so weird. Being thanked for coming in to work would feel either patronizing or just…wrong. I am actually fortunate enough to have a job I love, but on a day to day basis, I come in to work because I enjoy being able to make rent, not as a personal favor to my boss. And she in turn is a pretty great boss, but she pays me because she’s legally obligated to. I say thank you when she gives me the little letter with my annual raise (agreed upon in advance by union contract), but that’s a phatic statement with a hint of “great, I do appreciate all we’ve gotten done this year”.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      I had one bring us all into a meeting to tell us how disappointed she was that no one expressed adequate Thanks when she FINALLY got the only working bathroom repaired. We were to say Thank You for no longer needed to drive to the gas station.

      Lady–you are required by law to do that. Sometimes being the boss is Thankless.

    3. Llama doctor*

      Was she in veterinaty medicine? This is a old, trite, management recommendation.

      1. Melody Powers*

        I’m late but I laughed at this. At my job at an animal hospital I remember seeing a sign outside the breakroom that said “thank you for coming to work today”. I always thought it was a bit odd, somehow moreso when combined with the other random stuff around it.

    4. All Het Up About It*

      I thank my employees when they do their jobs, because yes, there have been times when I’ve had employees not do their jobs and just selfishly, it’s nicer to manage the ones who do!

      I’ve certainly said “Thanks for being here” to them as well… but generally when they are working some time, day, event, etc. that’s outside their standard job duties and descriptions. Just showing up at the office everyday … No, that’s just weird.

  4. Critical Rolls*

    Yep, this is “humor the boss” territory, not “this a norm” territory.

  5. Awkwardness*

    Maybe it would help to show some kind of enthusiam or interest about the number?
    I work once in a place where a comparable type of profit share was put in place and I completely understand the factual approach as you do not have any influence yourself. But as this is put in place as motivation and as participation on the overall success of the company, some acknowledgement might help too: how the year was difficult, but turned out well nonetheless.. everybody worked really hard in this climate and the outcome is appreciated… whatever suits you and your situation best.

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      Right. “I’m proud of the hard work this number represents and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this” is a reaction, and probably an honest one.

    2. Always On The Company Dime*

      For me the number is both written into my contract, and a source of contention. It was framed as “delay some of your salary to a time of year we have cash coming in” but it’s been late most years. OTOH the company is otherwise good to work for. But “express gratitude for poor management”… sure, if that’s what they want.

      I’ve worked for genuine profit-share type variable bonuses in the past and been grateful when those panned out. One time I got an extra couple of months salary because the boss sold extra copies of a software package I wrote for him. That was a surprise and I was very happy at him. He was also happy, we had “Friday afternoon drinks” on a Wednesday :)

  6. My Brain is Exploding*

    or, thank you for having a profit-sharing plan. Sounds like your relationship with your boss isn’t great. I’d say thank you just so it doesn’t get any worse!

  7. Chairman of the Bored*

    This boss sounds like a tool, but there’s nothing wrong with a “thank you” even in situations where it’s not strictly warranted.

    When I buy a cup of coffee the barista and I usually both say “thanks” even though he prepared the coffee as part of his job in response to money that I paid.

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      Exactly the sort of situation I was thinking of and as someone said above, “social lubricant”. Thank You, Please, etc. just keeps the world running smoothly a lot of times.

    2. Underrated Pear*

      This was my thought as well. Flipping the situation – when I hand in a report or other deliverable to my boss, she generally replies with “Thank you,” “Thanks, Underrated Pear,” or for bigger deliverables, something like “Thanks for all your work on this.” Subscribing to your logic, she doesn’t NEED to say thank you, because I am just completing my end of the working arrangement, but it makes for a pleasant working atmosphere.

      It’s hard to know how much of a jerk your boss is being without knowing how legitimate his perception of you as “a person who never says thanks” is. It’s possible he is a jerk who demands subservience. But it’s also possible that you could benefit from a slight recalibration.

    3. Boof*

      Pretty much, I say “thank you” (or other social pleasantries) for all kinds of things that technically are already contracted
      I say hello or good morning and hello to staff I work with, even though I certainly don’t have to, and “thanks!” or “Great!” when they do things smoothly, even though that’s pretty much their job; I’m not saying one needs to grovel at the bosses’s feet but I suppose if boss was literally quoting me my share of profits I’d probably try to say something like “sounds good!” or maybe “thanks!” just like I thank my own bosses for feedback / stuff we are particularly working on together etc – so I guess worth of thinking of it as “glad we’re able to continue a mutually beneficial relationship”???

  8. Ink*

    I feel like my own hesitance with a situation like this is that it IS a world of human feelings… and this feels icky. There’s a version of the relationship where “thank you” is employed the way it’s employed for someone passing you a roll of tape or loaning you a pencil, but with a boss this intense about it it’s paternalism all the way down :/ Even the snotty “you’re welcome” is a better way for it to come up, that gets used for any lack of thanks, including the justified ones.

    Not to say you shouldn’t do it, but… it’d be in the back of my mind for a long time, personally. Hopefully without any additional interactions that turn it from a difference in personal opinion to a red flag!

    1. Tabihabibi*

      I get a lot of mileage out of using the “I appreciate…” phrasing Allison uses for framing. “I appreciate that we have this set up,” ” I appreciate you getting these [required] documents to me” etc.

  9. Is it?*

    Profit sharing isn’t required, and if he’s the majority owner of a private business, it kind of is coming out of his pocket(and the other shareholders pockets), isn’t it? I worked for a family-owned company that did profit-sharing until the patriarch retired. His sons were waiting in the wings to take over, and they immediately took profit-sharing away. But it was called it the “profit-sharing Bonus structure,” with the emphasis on Bonus.

    1. Fit Farmer*

      I bet that’s the issue here, the boss sees it as a formalized “bonus” program offered in addition to salary or hourly pay, and which could be taken away while leaving the “core” pay intact. The LW sees it as a part of their compensation, to which they agreed when signing on for the role, and so to the LW it’s no different from any other part of their paycheck except for the method by which the number is determined.

    2. Somehow_I_Manage*

      I’d agree. If it’s truly a 20 person business, the owner has all kinds of flexibility on what benefits they offer. They may or may not offer insurance, retirement, or profit sharing- it’s all at the discretion of ownership, and subject to change.

      While the program may be formally structured, the choice to offer it to employees is nuanced; and likely worthy of gratitude- if for nothing else than to help convince the boss to keep it!

      There’s of course another side to this, in which the boss pays lower salaries in exchange for having a profit-based bonus incentive; and the worker bees took that into account when negotiating their compensation. Maybe that’s the case here too.

      1. Is it?*

        Yeah, I own a minority stake in the company I’m in now. We don’t profit share, but if we did, I would see that as coming out of our owner pockets, since my dividend would be higher without profit sharing.

        1. Still*

          I mean, your dividend would probably also be higher if you paid the employees half as much as you do, but they still have the right to the salary that has been agreed upon. All the costs of doing business decrease the dividend and come out of the owners’ pockets. The point is, this is something that’s agreed upon up front as a part of the compensation that has been negotiated. It might come out of the owner’s pocket but it’s not a generous gift offered out of the goodness of their heart, it’s holding up their end of a business agreement. A “thank you” might be warranted, gratitude is not.

        2. Grammar Penguin*

          Every business expense then can be seen as “coming out of our owner pockets”. Should the landlord express their gratitude for the rent check? Does the power company? Does your employer get annoyed when they don’t?

          Your profit sharing arrangement was part of your agreed compensation, yes? Presumably it was a business decision to offer it to you in order to hire or retain you. If they could have done so without it, if they could just pay you a higher flat salary with no such profit sharing, that would be just as legit a choice.

          If you feel like this was done as a personal favor to you, one that was done just for your benefit and to their detriment (you gain, they lose), then gratitude is appropriate. If you want to express that gratitude, go ahead. They don’t have a right to expect it though.

          Would you stay in this position without the profit-sharing? If the answer is no, then THAT is WHY they offered it to you. It wasn’t a personal favor because they like you, it was a business necessity to keep an essential employee.

      2. Grammar Penguin*

        The number is set by prior agreement. Nothing either LW or her boss does changes it, per the letter. It is absolutely not a gratitude-worthy situation. It’s a business deal where the employer offered a specific compensation arrangement and LW agreed to work for that. She might have said something like “Thanks for the opportunity” when she was first brought onboard. Expecting her to express gratitude to her boss for paying her according to their agreement is a bit precious.

        Boss owes as at least as much gratitude to LW for having accepted the deal as LW owes to the boss for keeping to the deal now. Which is to say, none. (She might feel *relief* that her employer is not now trying to go back on the deal, but “Thanks for not screwing me over” really ought not be necessary.)

        Gratitude from an employee is a bizarre expectation. Nobody is doing anyone any favors here.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      LW writes that they are “entitled” to this profit share, so it sounds like it is, indeed required (by contract or whatever). So it’s more like part of the salary, which, while it also “comes out of the owners pocket”, isn’t the owners generosity, it’s agreed-upon compensation.

  10. Working On My Night Cheese*

    The owners of our company expect personal thank you emails from everyone when profit share or bonus checks are distributed. They will complain in leadership meetings when they don’t feel they received enough thank you notes. It seems weird to me…the bonus itself is them thanking us for our work, so we are thanking them for the thank you. I play the game and drop a quick note to stay on their good side, but I roll my eyes while doing it.

    1. Petty_Boop*

      It would be lovely if someone pointed that out, like “But isn’t THIS the company thanking US?” But you know your audience and can read the room, better than us here in “if only” land!

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Haha – public passive aggressive griping is a sign of poor upbringing. Well bred people don’t bitch and moan out loud.

  11. didi*

    I always say thank you to my managers whenever any raise or bonus is communicated. Even if it’s not coming out of the boss’ pocket personally – it’s a polite thing to do and it doesn’t necessarily mean “thank you for the dough” as much as “thank you for the info” or “thank you for recognizing my contribution.”

  12. NCC1701G*

    I think a lot of this is going to come down on the tone of the “okay cool.” If it is excited sounding then I think it is fine. If it is a cool tone, then you might have trouble of it coming off as indifferent or even negative.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Yeah. I’ve said things along the lines of “cool, thanks for letting me know” when my manager gave me raise/bonus information. If they then said “ok, but what’s your response?” I would have gone “wait, what?”

  13. Satan’s Panties*

    Heh, it’s the opposite of this exchange from Mad Men.

    Don: It’s your job. You give me ideas; I give you money.
    Peggy: You never say thank you!
    Don: That’s what the money is for!

    1. DD*

      I was just going to post the exact same thing.

      Love me some Mad Men. I’m not going to disclose how many times Ive watched the series, especially during lockdown.

  14. Llama Llama*

    It makes me think of my insane manager from 15 years ago who sent me an email ranting about all the things wrong which includes not saying good morning… Pettily I refused to sign her good luck card when she changed projects two years ago.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I think this is an interesting point for OP to consider. I’m not good at the “good morning” type greetings or social conventions. I am aware that they exist, but I hate them, think they are meaningless, and don’t care one way or another if someone bothers with them for me. I am also aware that *some* other people (probably the majority) will think negatively of me if I do not participate in this (to me) unnecessary social convention. Some will think I’m a little weird, some will think I’m cranky in the mornings (true, actually), and some will think I’m downright rude. So I try my best to remember to say “good morning” to people I pass in the hall even though I think it’s stupid and I always respond back if someone says it to me.

      Not playing along with these social conventions can have consequences. Whether they’re warranted or not (and I would argue ranting about it in an email to a subordinate instead of having a polite conversation about expectations and personality differences in the office is completely unwarranted), LW should keep that in mind. It’s probably not worth expending the energy feeling annoyed at how stupid this feels and just say thank you, take the check, and move on. But if LW feels this is a place they want to take a stand, as long as they are doing that with their eyes open that it may have consequences for their relationship with their boss, then that’s their right too. I do think though it would be reasonable to reframe it in their mind as “Thank you for letting me know” and spend their capital on something more serious.

      1. OP here :)*

        Hiya! Definitely agree with your point – as well as the general consensus in the comments- about social niceties that are easier to observe than not (and don’t really need a fuss to be made- certainly not in this case).

        I didn’t include this in the original post thinking it was too much detail/irrelevant but the boss asked me to go into a meeting room, we walked there together (10 seconds or so) , he silently walked to the window leaned against it and then said what the number was without any other context or windup and then went silent. I thought that might have been it (?) as we weren’t sat down and it looked like he was moving away again (I was sort of half crouch sitting which probably made it even more awkward in retrospect… yeeeesh).

        I now of course know I should have just said thanks as a default but in the moment it was quite abrupt. I am sure I stammered something nonsensical along with ok cool and then he interrupted my flailing with the comment about gratitude and I was thrown.

        Thanks to everyone for their stories and advice, as well as to Alison for publishing and as always a nuanced and balanced perspective – and holy crap there are some bananacrackers managers out there with crazy ideas about paychecks – this is very tame in comparison! Maybe along with the annual nightmare manager series there could be a nightmare paycheck/compensation feature??

  15. goducks*

    I’ve always been in the position to determine how paychecks are distributed in the companies I’ve worked for, and I’ve always told the managers that when they distribute paychecks, it’s their opportunity to do a quick thank you to the employee for their work, and to have a bit of a positive, encouraging interaction. Yeah, the payment for services is required, but I’ve found that a little affirmation by managers along with the paycheck goes a long way. It doesn’t need to be anything big any given paycheck but the occasional “here you go, thanks for the hard work!” or even just a smile and light chit-chat can be the difference between an employee feeling seen and feeling like they’re just a number.

    When employees have thanked me when I’ve handed them a check, I’ve always taken it as thanking for the act of handing them paperwork, not for the money inside.

  16. Kelly*

    My last boss at a highly toxic small business (he was the owner) actually did tell us he expected us to thank him for paying us and would hold onto our paychecks until hours after closing to better wield his power over us. Those paychecks were nothing to be thankful about, honestly. I left and make twice as much for half the hours and they appreciate ME.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Holy moly. I’d have called the labor department each time I was not paid on time. What a creep.

    2. Petty_Boop*

      Ughhhh such toxicity! Did anyone ever have the b@lls to say, “I’ll thank you for paying me when YOU thank me for working my @$$ off for you!”? Please say you did when you got your final paycheck!

      1. Kelly*

        No one ever had the gonads to do it, unfortunately. He liked to make people absolutely miserable and I needed his cooperation to manage my COBRA-like benefits after I left (state program that you had to have your former employer handle even if they denied its existence like mine tried). One evening when he didn’t come back until 8:30 pm (three hours after closing) someone did go in his office and hand out paychecks. He had a massive meltdown/tantrum the next day and reamed her out for violating his office privacy. Unfortunately our job options were limited by a 25 mile non-compete agreement and none of us were paid enough to even begin fighting it in court so we had to have something solid lined up in another county or field before quitting.

    3. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

      *fist bump* ours would “forget” to come back to the office in time to do payroll and then expect to be thanked for letting us borrow $20 out of petty cash for the weekend.

    4. StarTrek Nutcase*

      In the 80s, I worked in a large county tax office where the elected officer (EO) insisted on personally handing out the monthly paychecks – he actually drove to even the branch offices. There were probably 100 women total. My dept. had 6 women and the head was male. On my first day, I was advised that the EO kissed each women as he handed her the check. When EO started rounds, the phone tree would start warning each dept. ensuring a few women could run errands to avoid him. My dept. head would allow all 6 of us to use the restroom. I really didn’t appreciate the capital he must have used to do this. I was in my 20s and remember my biggest concern was the idea of kissing an 80 yo wizened old fart. Karma bit EO a year later when the news broke he had lied for years about his residence which made in ineligible for office.

  17. learnedthehardway*

    I’m self-employed, and I send my invoices to clients with “Thanks. It’s a pleasure doing business with you”, or some version of that.

    Sure, they owe me the money, but the thanks is a social lubricant.

    1. photographer*

      …me too! and a similar “payment received, thank you!” even when the payment was late.

    2. Grammar Penguin*

      And when I pay my phone bill or my car insurance I get an automated reply that says “Thanks for your payment of $X”. That is a polite formality, not a sincere expression of my insurance company’s genuine gratitude.

      There’s a lot of comments here building on AAM’s comment about simple thanks being a social lubricant rather than a sincere expression of gratitude. Just like “How are you” is just a greeting and not an actual inquiry into your current health and happiness. While true, it doesn’t seem relevant in this case.

      LW says her boss is specifically looking for an expression of gratitude, not a polite platitude. From the letter: “I did clarify whether he was looking for a comment on that and he said I could show at least some gratitude as he’d never heard me express my thanks after a figure was revealed.”

      He’s not asking for “Thanks for telling me this” he’s asking for gratitude that the figure is what it is when neither of them have any control over it. Which seems to me less about gratitude and more about subservience.
      It’s basically this: “Here’s the number for your profit-sharing check.” “Okay, cool.” “Why aren’t you thanking me?”
      Thanking him for what, exactly?

  18. Karon*

    I think the key here is the interpersonal friction OP mentions. When you’re at odds with someone, they are likely to bristle at many things which would not give people on good terms a passing thought. Since OP’s boss mentions that OP never said thank you, I’m just imagining Boss Person seething at not being thanked. So though OP asked for what was the norm, clearly with THIS boss remembering to say thank you – necessary, justified or not – might be the best way to go. I bet a different boss in the same company might not notice or care.

  19. KTbrd*

    OP, you could try “Thanks for letting me know.” ? Boss hears “Thanks,” and it’s a little more genuine & maybe not as bothersome as a straight up “thank you for the money” would be.

  20. Kwebbel*

    This is a good question! It’s one I have every pay review cycle. Having once had an experience where I felt compelled to show extreme gratitude and loyalty to a company that was severely underpaying me for 3 years, I’m loath to say “thank you for giving me a raise” to my managers at my current company. BUT, the truth is, I am grateful. And I’m always very happy for extra cash to store under my mattress. So here’s what I do: I always say “This is excellent news! I’m absolutely delighted to hear this.” I never actually say “thank you” to my boss, but I get the distinct impression from his reaction that he knows I’m pleased. YMMV – For me, this is definitely true, as my new company gives me pay raises that are in line with what I’ve accomplished and what the market says I’m worth. But for me it’s a good way to stay grounded in multiple ways (I remind myself that I am pleased with what I get, and I remember that I get what I deserve, and not what someone with the means of production thinks is the bare minimum they can give me to keep me).

    1. the Viking Diva*

      I came here to say this. Yes – even if profit sharing is formalized into the contract, it is not a given that the company will make a profit. So you can still show enthusiasm and pleasure without groveling. “I’m glad the firm did so well this year; thank you for letting me know.” Or “It’s been a good team effort, hasn’t it? I’m so pleased to have been able to contribute.” Or just think of ‘thanks’ as expressing “I feel thankful for a bonus” and not “I am grateful to you personally.”

  21. Lacey*

    I always thought of it as “Thanks for relaying this info” and I think my boss (the owner) did too.

    But I worked for a small company and some of the other employees (all 50+ women) would make a HUGE deal about thanking him and how grateful we should all be.

    It was weird and resulted in all kinds of other inappropriate behavior/expectations.

  22. This_is_Todays_Name*

    My boss calls me every year on my “anniversary” date to tell me what my “salary escalation” (which is better than my first corporate employer who called it “salary penetration,” and would literally say things like “you are currently 75% penetrated, so your increase is limited to X %”-although I frequently felt fully penetrated after one of those chats–but I digress ). I always say, “Thanks for letting me know; that’s about what I expected,” or something along those lines. I do NOT say “Thank you my liege for giving me more money that still is less than the current rate of inflation.”

  23. Samwise*

    As long as the gratitude’s going in both directions, saying Thank You is not an issue.

    Your boss does thank you, OP, for doing good work I hope?

    1. Grammar Penguin*

      Excellent point. I wonder how often this boss has said “Thanks for your hard work today.” If never, it’s probably because he gets that that’s what the compensation is for.

  24. pengy*

    I think the key here is two things – the interpersonal friction clearly plays a role, but also the fact that the manager is also the owner. Owners can be very quirky. I think it’s very likely the owner does think that without the owner, there would be no job.

    So I don’t think bowing down before owner is required, but showing a little appreciation for the owner is not out of line. In your head it can be thanks for letting me know, but out of your mouth the owner hears, thanks for keeping us in business another year.

    And, FWIW, the owner may have pressures you don’t know about – it’s hard being a small business owner.

  25. Sara M*

    “I appreciate this working relationship that has borne monetary fruit for us both.”

    Excellent wording. I’m going to literally say this to my boss.

    hehe. :)

  26. saskia*

    Even if you said, “That’s great! Thanks for letting me know,” or even “Cool, glad the business is growing,” I think it’d come across better, and you don’t actually have to say “thanks” if the idea of doing that is getting under your skin — just something positive that isn’t “kay cool”. I assume the majority owner is the one who says whether profit sharing lives or dies. You don’t need to get on your hands and knees, but a bit of positive sentiment never hurts. Things can change on a dime in small businesses, especially with bosses like this.

  27. Alan*

    I’m a boomer so my perspective is definitely skewed from that of the younger people I work with, but I always say thank you for raises, bonuses, even for having important discussions. For raises I will often thank a couple levels of management because I know that it’s not up to just my boss.
    It’s lubricant in the interpersonal machine. And when I do have something to complain about, I think my history of showing respect and appreciation might make the management above me a little more receptive.

    1. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, a lot of people don’t seem to recognize how far a habit of “please” and “thank you” even for routine stuff that’s part of their job goes. My current boss thanks me for solving problems, even though it’s part of my job. Yeah, I sometimes get in trouble for being blunt, but I always thank people who do things for me, give me information, or otherwise help my work along. It’s all part of that “soft skills” thing.

      I am not the most socially adept person, but “please” and “thank you” are pretty well hard wired in, and I think they are part of why I keep jobs – I treat my coworkers well, and appreciate what they do, and I even try to work with the grumpy folks. I also try to STFU when I’m feeling poorly and am grumpy myself, but I’m still working on that.

      1. Alan*

        LOL. A lot of us struggle with the “STFU” part :-). Too often I’ve had to go back to people afterward and say “Hey, I’m sorry I was such an a** yesterday — I shouldn’t have said that” or whatever.

      2. londonedit*

        Maybe it’s just being British, but I really can’t imagine not doing the ‘social lubrication’ stuff. It blew my mind when I realised after reading comments on other letters here that some people think ‘sorry’ always has to mean ‘I apologise’, and therefore they ‘won’t say sorry’ – in my world ‘sorry’ can mean ‘excuse me’ or ‘that’s a shame’ or ‘I acknowledge that this is awkward’ or ‘I know I’m asking for a favour here’ or any number of other things that are not specifically ‘I have done something wrong and I must apologise’. Same with ‘thank you’ – as others have said, if you’re in a coffee shop and the barista hands you your drink, you say thank you. Because that’s polite. Yes, you’ve paid for the drink so technically it’s your property and the barista is only doing the job they’re paid to do, but what a miserly attitude that is. Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t mean ‘I am so excessively grateful for what you have done for me’, it just means ‘I acknowledge you, fellow human, and thank you for doing your job and making me a nice coffee’. Same with ‘How are you’ – where I live, that doesn’t need a full response. It’s another ‘I acknowledge you’ thing that greases the wheels of social interaction. You say ‘Hey, how are you?’ and the other person says ‘Hey! Good thanks’ and that’s it, but you’ve given each other a little tiny ‘I see you and I hope your day is going well’ acknowledgement.

        That’s not to say that the boss here is being entirely reasonable – they shouldn’t demand thanks, that’s not how thanks works. But it’s clear that it’s something they do want, and it’s not exactly a hardship for the OP to say something like ‘Oh, thank you’ or ‘That’s great, thanks for letting me know’ – that’s not bowing and scraping to the boss, it’s just an acknowledgement of their working relationship and a thanks to the boss for doing their job.

      3. Festively Dressed Earl*

        Same here; please and thank you are wired in as good manners. Recently had a new employee at our local grocery store refer to my husband and I as “the nice ones” because apparently that habit is a rarity now.

  28. Fikly*

    Is your boss thanking you for working for him? I think not.

    But alas, in the society we live in, we have to bow and give thanks to jerks like the above.

    1. Underrated Pear*

      I mean, as I posted above, my boss doesn’t literally say “thank you for working for me,” but she does always say “thank you” in response to completed work I send her. And I, in return, usually say something like, “That’s great, thank you” when I receive news of a good review, raise, etc. I know some bosses are egotistical jerks, but I feel like some people are really reading a lot into a simple “thanks.”

      I think I would have reacted differently to this letter if the boss had said something like, “No one is thanking me for this! Why is that?” That would indicate a real problem on the boss’s part. But it sounds like the boss has a problem with the LW *in particular*, which is why I wonder if the LW is unusually reticent about offering simple courtesies on a regular basis and this was the breaking point.

  29. Dawn*

    Honestly I think I’m just going to give you the very basic answer to this which is, “Technically, no, but a thank you is a pretty normal part of the social contract here even if there’s technically nothing to be grateful for and you’re going to end up looking a little petulant and pedantic if you decide to die on this hill instead of spending the very slight amount of effort to offer one.

  30. el l*

    I suspect the real friction isn’t about some kind of socially desirable “Thank you for the bonus” norm.

    Sounds more to me (because of the “You never…” language in addition to the wider troubles) like the boss is using this as an example of some wider annoyance they have with OP. Very possible that’s more the message being sent.

    While I don’t think it’s really what’s being discussed between OP and the boss, FWIW I say a simple uninflected “Thank you” when I get my bonuses. And that’s all.

  31. Festively Dressed Earl*

    When people get to this BEC stage of debating small courtesies, it’s time to look at the underlying causes of the friction and decide if there’s bees in the workplace.

  32. Gray Lady*

    On the one hand, offering thanks for something that is expected and even obligated is a fairly normal behavior — think thanking a service person for doing their job routinely, or a co-worker for giving you needed information that’s fully part of their regular job. So I think that saying thank you in that situation doesn’t in itself imply that you’re being done a “favor,” it’s just a standard civility.

    On the other hand, the boss is being ridiculous. If someone doesn’t say thank you in that situation I might think them slightly lacking in common courtesy, but not consider that important factor in my impression of that person, other things being equal. But making an issue of it is just strange.

  33. Managing to get by*

    The worst thing about working for a small business is that the business owner tends to view every penny they pay you as a penny out of their pocket. They ignore the fact that without the contributions of their employees, their income would be much lower.

    I worked for a sole proprietor in one of my first jobs and swore never again to be in that situation.

    One of my friends was in the position of working in basically an apprenticeship to get hours needed for licensing, and his friend, who had planned to be business partner after he was licensed, started getting pissy about paying him the standard 25% of revenue (for unlicensed staff) for the jobs he did. My friend moved on to work for himself once he had the licensing hours, and his “partner” freaked out after a couple of months when he realized that not having someone else working jobs had reduced his overall income. Begged him to come back for 50% instead of 25%, but since my friend now had 100% of his own revenue plus the same business expenses he would have had with a partner, just laughed.

  34. Hybrid Sam*

    From a strictly logical viewpoint, in a world where emotions are removed and everything functions according to pure logic, people wouldn’t thank each other for doing the work that they get paid to do. But thanks go a long way toward building and maintaining work relationships, which is as much part of the white collar office job as the job itself.

  35. kctipton*

    My thought was also, “Thanks for running the business profitably.” After all, there’s no bonus for deficits.

  36. Been There*

    I worked for a small business where the owner was my direct boss, and every request felt like a personal, not company, ask.

    It was generally the unspoken rule that you better enthusiastically say thank you – for everything – your paycheck, your 401K, any bonuses, equipment to do your job (including your computer, your mouse, your keyboard, etc. ). I chalked it up to an easy way to build and maintain a good working relationship.

  37. Greenpat*

    Part of our current society has people saying please and thank you even when it’s not necessary. If I go through a drive through I say “thank you” when they hand me a burger. It’s not necessary. I paid for the food. They’re going to hand it to me even if I don’t say a word and just drive off afterward. It’s a transactional relationship that lasts less than a minute. But I still do it to be polite.

    It’s annoying when someone demands a thank you. I imagine that your boss doesn’t say, “thank you for all your hard work today” every time you leave work. Still, little niceties make things run smoother.

  38. Angstrom*

    Slightly different here — the division head has to negotiate the annual bonus amount with corprorate headquarters. I do send them a brief thank-you email, and mean it. But it does go both ways — they’ve thanked me for good work when we’ve met in person.

  39. Jade*

    Does Boss thank you for coming in and doing your job? Your answer to the contractual bonus depends on that.

  40. sparkle emoji*

    I’m a little curious if there’s a cultural expectations mismatch here. I’m from a part of the country where “sorry” and “thank you” are used for many things beyond apology and gratitude respectively, and have moved to an area where that’s less common. (The boss is absolutely still being unreasonable)

  41. gsa*

    Every month I get a text from my big boss, regarding my monthly bonus.

    I say thank you every single time.

    It is not a difficult exercise for me, considering the bonus runs about 25% of my salary.

    I was born and raised in live a place where thank yous are normal.

    1. Grammar Penguin*

      Does that text include a thank you for your hard work? If not, then it’s a one-way courtesy. Which is basically an assertion of power: you are bound by the conventions of politeness to but they are not.

      If they do say thanks for your hard work, then you’re right, it’s just an informal mutual courtesy. It’s when the courtesy expectations go in only one direction that it’s not actually about courtesy at all.

      “I was born and raised in live a place where thank yous are normal.” Where on Earth is this not true?

  42. RagingADHD*

    I mean, I respond “Thanks!” Or “Great, thanks so much!” when someone sends me the meeting slides I requested or confirms the time for a conference room booking. Why would I not respond with at least the same level of civility to my boss?

    I’m not being obsequious to my coworkers by thanking them for doing basic job functions. No more am I being obsequious to the boss in this context.

  43. Grazie prego ciao*

    “we do not bring out the best in each other”

    This is not your boss demanding tribute for paying your compensation as agreed.

    This is your boss suggesting that you pay more attention to emotional intelligence, soft skills, and social conventions. Shockingly, normal people say “good morning” to each other and occasionally socialize with co-workers.

    1. grumpyface*

      All people are normal people – including people who are neuro-divergent, have different cultural expectations and even those who were badly-brought up.

  44. Bambue*

    One tack you could try is commenting something like “I’m glad we had a solid year.” – which isn’t a thank you but still recognizes something in the interaction.

  45. Purple Halo*

    I can’t imagine sitting there and not saying thank you, or having some comment on how the team went. Something about it being a hard year given climate, or how successful the team is or something.

    Think of it this way – your employer is not obligated to thank you or “recognise” you for the work you do. They pay you, it’s a logical conclusion that you will do the work – it’s what your employment agreement is built on. By extension, managers do not need to thank you for doing your job well, or recognise good performance. Your pay is the business fulfilling their side of the deal. You doing your work is your side of the deal.

    But most people do not want to work in a place that contractual. They value recognition and words of thanks. They want to work in an environment that does have human touches, not just contractual obligations.

    I used to thank my boss when he handed me the envelope of cash that was my weekly pay if that happened in person. Simply because – you thank people when they give you things you want to receive. I thanks bus drivers when I exit the bus. I thank wait staff when they bring me my meal, I thank the person at the drive through when they hand my food over. All these are simple transactional occasions without any favour applying.

    Are you as transactional in all your workplace relations? If so, it might be worth thinking how that might be affecting how others view you.

  46. CountryLass*

    Just tack “thanks” on to your previous comment “ok, cool, thanks!” Doesn’t have to be a long-winded thank-you-speech.

  47. K*

    I wouldn’t even think to thank someone for something like this and would be opposed to doing so out of principle.

  48. Kate*

    I would say something like, in a warm tone with a smile, “I’m always so pleased when this works out.” Or “I’m so pleased we’re continuing to do well.” It acknowledges your role in the profits that are shared but I think it would come across as thanks.

  49. Mmm.*

    A compromise could be something a bit more affirmative about the pay, like “that’s great” or “sounds perfect,” since it’s in line with what you’re thinking and is therefore great or perfect.

  50. Not a dr*

    If thanks really rubs you the wrong way why not something like, “Wow! I am glad to see the work we will put in is paying off and the company is doing well. That is great.” Just some general positivity could probably help here.

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