CEO Insider

Why saying thank you at work matters

Being a leader can be hard at times, yet there are also many times when it can be straightforward.

When you ask employees what they want from their leader, the answers are relatively consistent and simple. Georgetown University’s, Associate Professor of Management, Christine Porath, found that respect tops the charts for employees. Her global survey of 20,000 employees, conducted in conjunction with Harvard Business Review and Tony Schwarz, found that being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, having an inspiring vision, receiving feedback, and having opportunities for learning and development.

Their research found that respected employees reported:

  • 56% better health and well-being
  • 1.72 times more trust and safety
  • 89% more enjoyment and job satisfaction
  • 92% greater focus and prioritisation.

Everyone wants to feel they matter and be acknowledged, and leaders have these opportunities every day to build connection and engagement with their team members.

I always remember when I was at Virgin’s airport lounge in Sydney waiting to catch a plane back to Melbourne.  At the same time, Sir Richard Branson was in the lounge saying hello to guests and chatting with staff. Apparently, he did that every time he was in town.  Despite being busy, he found the time because he knew the criticality of making time for people, showing appreciation and saying thank you.  It made the employees feel good about working there and made customers feel appreciated too.

Contrast Sir Richard Branson’s actions with those of a CEO with whom I once worked. If he walked past you in the corridor, he would actively avoid eye contact, interacting with you as little as possible.  The message it sent was that he couldn’t be bothered making an effort because you didn’t matter.

Simple things matter – a lot

Everyone wants to feel they matter and be acknowledged.  As a leader, there are small steps you can take – every day – to show your team members their efforts are valued and appreciated. Simple activities and gestures, consistently applied, often have far more impact than grand gestures infrequently used.

It starts with taking an interest in the people you work with at a personal level. Find out what matters to them and know their interests and career aspirations.

As well, be polite and appreciative of their efforts. It doesn’t take much time to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and yet with email communication and instant messaging, it is often forgotten or cursory.

Picking up the phone and personally thanking people and saying ‘well done’ is easy to do, with a significant return.  This small effort demonstrates that you have noticed what they do and that their actions matter and are valued.  When people feel valued, they are more engaged and productive.

Similarly, be friendly and greet people when you come to work in the morning.  A simple ‘hello’ can go a long way, and it only takes a few seconds.  Most importantly, don’t cancel one on one meetings.  There will be occasions when you may need to change an appointment with a direct report, but when you regularly do this, the team member feels under-valued and can heighten stress levels.

Many of these actions shouldn’t need to be highlighted, but it is surprising how much of this gets missed when a leader is busy, stressed and rushing from meeting to meeting.

Value in action

Taking such actions, actively demonstrates to your team members that you respect, value and appreciate them, which goes a long way towards elevating your leadership.

When you respect your team, and in turn they respect you, you work well together and achieve more than you could alone.

When people are happy at work, they get more done. They are more focused and committed, which means fewer mistakes and better outcomes. The work environment is more stable, with less turnover, sick leave and conflict, and fewer behavioural challenges.  Your team members will also be more creative and effective at solving problems, and better equipped to bounce back and deal with setbacks.

As a leader, work is more comfortable and enjoyable because you spend less time cleaning up the mess and dealing with workplace drama, creating space for you to spend time working with your team to help them achieve goals and progress.  And that’s when the real magic at work happens; when people are supported and able to bring their best self to work each day.


Written by Michelle Gibbings. Have you read?
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Michelle Gibbings
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, working with global leaders to build workplaces where leaders and employees thrive and great things happen. Michelle is the Author of 'Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work', 'Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career' and the new book 'Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one'. Michelle Gibbings is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.