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]
A version of this article appeared in the November 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.