Stop Sending Your Employees Perfunctory ‘Thank You’​ E-mails

A long time ago, I used to work for a supervisor who was very good at the technical aspects of her job, but came up short on the human part of people management. She micromanaged us incessantly and spent most of her time nitpicking and harassing us about everything she saw wrong with our work. One day I said to her in frustration: “I can’t remember the last time you thanked me or told me I did a good job.” Her response made my jaw drop. With a condescending grin on her face like she was talking to a preschooler, she replied: “That’s not my job.”

Really?

There is a pervasive attitude among today’s leaders that showing appreciation for their employees’ efforts is optional. Let me tell you unequivocally and emphatically that it is not. Giving thanks and recognizing hard work are part of each and every leader’s job requirements – from a line supervisor all the way up to the CEO.

A person’s paycheck is not sufficient motivation to engage as a true business partner within their organization. I harp on this point and will continue to do so until I’m blue in the face: Employees don’t engage themselves; leaders engage employees. And one of the most effective ways to engage employees is to thank them for a job well done.

Unfortunately, all most leaders seem to do today is send perfunctory e-mails saying: “Thanks for all you do! Keep up the good work…”

We’ve come to rely on e-mail as our primary communication tool in the workplace, and leaders have gotten far too comfortable using it to deliver praise or recognition. It takes all the effort of typing a grocery list to send one of these lazy, disingenuous messages to your employees as an expression of thanks.

Leaders, if you want an engaged workforce, then you need to get off your royal asses and do something meaningful that actually requires time, effort, and a personal touch.

These are the elements needed to send your employees the message that you truly, genuinely appreciate them.

Time: There is no such thing as being too busy to make time for thanking your team. If one of your employees couldn’t complete a task because they didn’t have enough time, would you simply let them off the hook? I doubt it. So don’t shirk your leadership responsibilities by using the excuse that you don’t have time. The time element also involves frequency. How often you show genuine appreciation for your team is an indicator of their level of engagement and the quality of their employee experience.

Effort: The more effort you put into saying “thank you” to your employees, the more it will pay dividends down the road in the form of higher engagement. More importantly, it should just make you feel good because it’s the right thing to do! I’m not saying you need to throw a parade outside your office every Friday, but you need to put on your thinking cap and get creative. At one company where I worked, the supervisors would occasionally serve us full breakfast in the break room. It wasn’t much, but it the effort was certainly appreciated.

Personal Touch: Don’t send a mass e-mail to your employees with the same tired boilerplate “Thank you for your contributions” language. That is woefully impersonal. Unless you’re a very senior executive and your organization has more than 1,000 employees, don’t do this. However, senior leadership should still dedicate large chunks of their calendars to getting face time throughout all levels of the organization and taking every opportunity to personally thank employees. If you’re not the CEO, then you need to personalize your gratitude. And I don’t just mean hand writing a note to each of your team members. Find out your employees’ individual engagement levers and pull them when you want to say “Thanks a bunch!”. You’ll send a message to your employees that you value them as people, not as numbers.

I do want to give a disclaimer about showing appreciation to employees. Despite what I wrote at the beginning about this not being optional, there is an engagement foundation that must first be in place. Read my articles Advice For Leaders: Ten Ways to Avoid Disengaging Your Employees and The Stepford Employee Fallacy to learn more. You will not gain any traction with your staff if you don’t follow the basic tenets of creating an attractive employee value proposition. That means, if you’re not at least doing the bare minimum to engage your employees, all the thank you notes, ice cream sandwiches, and free pizza in the world won’t make a bit of difference.

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