"Thank You" Goes a Long Way

A basic management tool that Nancy Lublin argues is all too often underused? A simple phrase that you learned as a toddler—"thank you."

Here is what I know about Thanksgiving: It's less about focusing us on giving thanks than it is about gorging on turkey and stuffing. Ironically, perhaps, during the same week as our Thanksgiving, the British mark National Thank You Week. It's not just about this vague notion of thanks — it's aimed at helping us thank the people we encounter every day.

Thanking people isn't simply a matter of common courtesy. A 10-year study by leadership experts Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton of 200,000 managers and employees showed that saying "thank you" correlates with bigger profits. This isn't surprising, because giving thanks is a great motivational tool; who doesn't like to be thanked? What is surprising is how hard it is to do the thanking. (Even the Brits, with their thank-you week, apparently still aren't good at saying those two words; in another survey, 30% of respondents said they don't even bother anymore, instead opting for a much less gratitude-filled "cheers.")

As a not-for-profit CEO, I say lots of thank-yous — to sponsors, donors, staff, volunteers. So in this season that purports to be all about the giving of thanks, let's muse on who to thank and how to do it effectively.

1. Interns. Brewing coffee, making copies, stuffing envelopes: On life's totem pole, the intern occupies a lowly station somewhere below the lunch lady (who is at least typically guaranteed a paycheck and benefits). Obviously, interns do grunt work in the hopes of carving out a higher niche, but most interns, despite their millions of hours of labor, get not only no money but also little thanks. This makes no sense. For one thing, it's rude. For another, your interns — past, present, future — are out there talking about you and your office. If they love you, they're your brand champions. If they don't, they'll trash you. All it takes to ensure the former is a small gesture — or a series of them. Perhaps it's a handwritten note that mentions a specific thing they did to positively affect your workplace. Maybe you could invite them to your next holiday party. Or, perhaps best of all, help them line up their next job.

2. Lawyers. For real. The American Bar Association estimates that nearly three-quarters of all lawyers provide free services to disadvantaged people or the organizations that serve them — about 20 million hours a year. Let's say these lawyers usually bill about $250 an hour. (According to the Laffey Matrix, that's "reasonable" these days.) That's about $5 billion a year in donated value to the not-for-profit sector — an enormous gift, and especially for small shops without huge corporate accounts to rely on, a big strain. So think twice before telling a lawyer joke. And if your group gets pro bono help, try to steer your lawyer some business that pays.

3. The little people. Yes, the name itself is a problem, which is exactly why I used it. You know I'm not talking about my 4-foot-10 grandma. The "little people" are the FedEx guy, the UPS guy, the cleaners, the girl who sorts mail for our building, the repairman who is in our office way too often to fix our hapless copy machine. Here's a test: What are their names? Our office manager, Lauren Singer Katz, recently issued a quiz to our entire team, seeing how many of us could name 10 of the people who regularly interact with us, from the guy who books our flights at the eleventh hour (Albert) to the woman who rush-prints our posters at Staples (Karen). Most of us scored around 50%. Pathetic. Now we make it a point to greet everyone by name. Who are your office invisibles, the support team that makes sure you can do your job? Learn their names. Talk to them. Thank them. You might be surprised to learn that they think of your office as their workplace too, whether they are formally on your payroll or not. Do they know what you do? Lauren took the time to get to know Marlon, our janitor, and to tell him about Do Something's work. This past summer, Marlon's daughter was one of our best interns.

I haven't suggested anything that costs money. I didn't propose that you buy anyone a scarf or a fruitcake. Be polite; it's what Miss Manners would want you to do, but also it's good business. The British one-upped us by having a week of thanks instead of our one day. So let's take their idea and go one better. Let's take time every day to say thanks. Cheers.

Do Something CEO Nancy Lublin is thankful for New York nail salons.

[Photo by the Woodley Wonder Works]

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  • Mo Sena

    when I came across this article that deals about Thankfulness and gratitude, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Not everything is lost. There are still people who value more than just good manners but rather an attitude of gratitude, an attitude of understanding we're not the center of the universe and we depend on each other. No matter our business or activity "Thank you" will always be a great starting point. As the apostle Paul used to say: "and in all things, give thanks."

  • Elena Patrice

    Great article Ms. Lublin! When I was 8 years old I attended a birthday party where I said "thank you" to the mother who was giving out cut up Snicker's bar on a plate. Kids were everywhere, but the mother stopped and said that she just wanted to point out that I was the only one who thanked her... I was embarrassed at first, but that stayed with me and still does today. I thank my parents for helping instill good manners in me and I am doing the same for my 4 year old daughter; who is often told she has good manners. "Thank you", "Please", "You're welcome" are the keys to the kingdom in my opinion; especially when said with sincerity and humility. So ... thank you Ms. Lublin and Happy Thanksgiving! Much kindness, Elena

  • Christine Maingard

    Thoughtful comments about two thoughtful words that express gratitude. Being able to say 'thank you' from the bottom of the heart brings happiness - to ourselves and to others - and can make a profound difference in an organisational setting. Such sincere expression of appreciation facilitates positive interpersonal relationships, boots morale and leads to performance improvement. Research shows that grateful individuals are more optimistic with higher levels of life satisfaction. This apparently also improves one's physical health as it boosts the immune system and reduces stress.
    We all should count our blessings and engage in the 'thank-you-practice' every single day.

    Christine Maingard, Author of "Think Less, Be More" - http://www.thinklessbemore.com

  • Madeleine Shaw

    My old corporate employer worked to create a culture of saying thankyou. Someone would ask to give us feedback and at first we would quake in our boots - so often that's been code for some coming criticism. How encouraging and motivating for the feedback to be "I just wanted to thank you for doing such a great job on that project". It takes 10 seconds, costs nothing and makes an enormous difference - not just to the recipient but to the culture as a whole.

  • Morgan Barnhart

    We should have all been taught to say our please and thank yous as children, but sometimes we just seem to forget that a simple 'thank you' is very appreciated. I always feel way better about any task I do when I get a 'thank you'.

  • Elaine Fogel

    Nancy, you are hitting on something so basic and, unfortunately, overlooked too frequently. Especially, in the nonprofit sector, I expect to receive a thank you for my gifts, but it doesn't always happen. Talk about a poor brand experience. What is so difficult to "get?"

  • Adrian Gostick

    First, thank you so much for mentioning our work on employee engagement. Let me add just one thought to your wonderful list of engaging ideas for non-profit leaders, that is to include the family of those who work or volunteer for you. Sending a note, some flowers, or other token to the spouse, parents, partner, kids of those who take time away is a great way to build a connection and thank them for the time they sacrifice in having a loved-one gone from home.
    Adrian Gostick
    Author, The Carrot Principle

  • Jesse Goldman

    Nancy, thanks! I can't think of many things at work that take less time, have such a big impact, and that so many of us don't do often enough. A recent study found that 64% of people feel they don't get frequent enough recognition at work (http://rypp.ly/aAqoPi). McKinsey found that recognition is more motivating than money (http://bit.ly/G6Gwd).

    Recognition - even a simple "thanks" - doesn't have to be reserved for performance reviews or for a future "feedback sandwich" (where you surround the constructive stuff with some positive feedback). Thanks should be shared often, and in the moment. That makes them much more relevant and so much easier to share quickly. Thing is, while we should say "thank you" more often, don't say it when you don't mean it - that's worse. To be effective, feedback like this needs to be authentic: http://rypp.ly/ayEtSL