The Magical Power of Thank You Notes in the Workplace

What if you could spend just ten minutes a day on an activity that was guaranteed to lift your mood, as well as improve the mood, productivity, and loyalty of those you work with? Probably worth it, right?

When I was the communications director at a hospital, the hospital had a contract with the Studer Group, an organization that helps healthcare organizations continually improve, clinically and financially. One of the Studer Group’s many directives required executives and directors to send thank you notes to workmates and employees—not once in a while to recognize exceptional behavior, but weekly or even daily to let people know how much we appreciated both the big things and the little things they did.

My boss provided grids so we could record how often we sent thank you notes and to whom. I felt like Big Brother was watching me and, honestly, I was a little resentful that I had to report my thank you note completion rate to the CEO. But, since I wanted to remain employed, I got with the program. I bought personalized thank you cards and started to look for people who needed thanking.

And that’s when the magic started.

I am naturally a positive and optimistic person. I tend to see the good in people and I can usually find a silver lining in the darkest of clouds, but I did not anticipate the effect of writing regular thank you notes. My outlook got even brighter and my relationships improved, too. Those thank you notes I sent to others were like little boosters for my positivity.

On days when my thank you grid was a little sparse, I began looking for someone to thank, so I’d pay attention to the smallest act of kindness or extra work. These were the times I noticed how dedicated and thoughtful so many of the hospital employees were. I never had trouble finding reasons to thank people. And when I sent them a thank you note, they were often so surprised that someone noticed or cared about those little acts, that they made a point of mentioning how grateful they were to receive my note. These notes created a neverending loop of good feelings.

How to Write a Heartfelt Thank You Note, Even if you Don’t Like to Get Mushy

I understand that for some, the idea of writing a thank you note is about as appealing as a colonoscopy. People don’t know where to begin or what to say.

So first, let’s focus on who deserves your appreciation and then we’ll figure out how you can show it to them.

Beginning with your workplace, are there any people who make your daily experience a little better? A secretary who greets you with a smile every time you walk in the door, a colleague who supports you when you’ve taken on too much, an employee who volunteers for extra projects, a boss who is patient when you have another “amazing” idea? To send a thank you note, we don’t have to find people who have solved world hunger or cleansed the Earth of all pollution (though, I’d send them a thank you note, too). We’re just looking for people who make your life a little better. If you’re responsible for managing employees, look for the traits you most want to encourage. Who are your most dependable, creative, considerate employees? Let’s reinforce the behaviors you most appreciate.

Those thank you notes I sent to others were like little boosters for my positivity.

Now, how do you express that appreciation?

As you may have gathered, not all thank you notes are created equal. To get the full benefits of writing thank you notes, you have to say more than, “Thanks for everything!” Because, really, that’s almost the same as writing, “Thanks for doing something that wasn’t memorable enough for me to remember or mention,” or its kissing cousin, “I know I should send a thank you but I don’t know what to say.”

A well-written thank you note should be timely, specific and heartfelt. And if you’re writing a thank you note based on information from someone else (a mutual friend, colleague or acquaintance), mention them in the note. It’s best if the thank you note is handwritten on a card and mailed, but if that stops you from writing or sending it, use your keyboard and send it via email.

The anatomy of a thank you is as follows:

  1. Start with the expression of gratitude. “Thank you for…” “I really appreciated it when…” “I am so grateful for…”
  2. Name the action or gift you appreciate and if appropriate, why that action is important. “Thank you for filling in on late notice.” “I really appreciated it when you took the time to review our annual report before we sent it to the printer. I can’t believe we misspelled our company name!” “I am so grateful for your can-do approach. This is how we push ourselves to reach new heights.”
  3. Include a closing statement restating your appreciation.

Here are some examples:

Dear Pat, 
Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your dedication and thoughtfulness. Julie told me about how you helped her finish her project, even though it meant staying late Monday night. Your actions just reinforce the high opinion I already had of you. Thanks, again.

Dear Javier,
Thanks for volunteering at the health fair this weekend. I know there are a lot of other ways you could have spent your time. I thought you should know your willingness to step up time and again doesn’t go unnoticed. Keep up the good work. I appreciate all you do for our organization.

You get the idea. These don’t need to be lengthy or mushy, but they should be specific and impart genuine emotion. Also, it’s important to send them in a timely manner.

If you want help with this or any other communication tools, let me know! And if you’d like to receive a little communication inspiration straight to your inbox, subscribe here.