Across almost all generations, most of us were taught to say “please” and “thank you” about the same time we were learning to walk. Showing gratitude is polite. It’s a powerful expression with benefits for both the person expressing the thanks and the person receiving them. However, despite the benefits and all this early practice, surveys show that people are least likely to thank someone they work with.
Why is that?
If you’re the boss and you hired someone to work the night shift, should you thank them for simply doing their job? Let’s say you’ve been working closely with your team who just finished a project on time, on budget, and as planned; they know you’re aware of their work, so is a thank-you necessary? Maybe one of your employees spent time over the weekend working with a difficult client, but that’s what they were hired to do, right? Their paycheck or bonus is showing you value them, isn’t it?
If you’re the employee, are you grateful for your job? If you thanked your boss at the end of each day, would you be looked at by fellow coworkers as kissing up? If you complete some mandatory training to give you improved skills, do you thank the trainer and your boss for budgeting for it, or is that just part of what’s owed to you as an employee? If you acknowledge receipt of a complimentary email, do you thank the sender, or do you worry about being labeled as the employee who clutters the inboxes?
Why don’t we say “thank you” at work? Perhaps it’s because we don’t like to thank people for something we feel is just an ordinary part of each day — a part of what’s expected? Or we don’t want to cross that line of kissing up or showing favoritism? And everyone knows thank-you emails are taboo.
But, building a culture of gratitude at work has benefits to both the person receiving and the person expressing the thanks:
- Saying “thank you” shows people you value them. It doesn’t just acknowledge someone’s effort, thoughtfulness, intent or action … it acknowledges the person himself,” says Peter Bregman for Psychology Today. When we receive thanks, it gives us a heightened sense of self-worth. But, it doesn’t stop there. It also triggers more helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and toward other people, says Francesca Gino, an author and Harvard associate professor who has conducted gratitude experiments.
- Gratitude also has benefits for the person expressing gratitude. Research demonstrates that taking time to consider and express the things we’re grateful for has a powerful, positive effect. “If practiced regularly, it can keep you healthier and happier,” according to Alex Korb, PhD, for Psychology Today. He cites several research projects: One links higher levels of gratitude shown in people’s daily lives to better sleep and lower anxiety and depression. Another connects the brain function affecting metabolism and stress with feelings of gratitude. Feeling and expressing gratitude activated brain regions that make us feel good.
“It’s up to the people with power to clearly, consistently, and authentically say thank you in both public and private settings,” says Jeremy Adam Smith for greatergood.berkeley.edu.
Gratitude is powerful. And the benefits go far beyond just letting someone know you appreciate their efforts. A simple thank-you can trigger more good work and positive feelings for everyone involved.