Start your Thanksgiving in the office

Thanksgiving in the workplace: Thanking employees and fellow workers isn't just polite, it can boost morale and productivity.

ZUMA Press/Newscom/File
Recruitment Assistant Laurie Remick (center) navigates a food line during the the annual Citrus Memorial Hospital employee appreciation lunch in May 2006 in Inverness, Fla. Employers can find many ways to say thank you to employees besides salary increases, workplace experts say.

Before the feast – before the frenzied airline travel or family gatherings on Thursday – suppose Thanksgiving began at the office.

It could be Thankful Tuesday or Gratitude Wednesday. Bosses could close early and use the time to thank employees. Employees could thank their bosses, too.

What would happen in the workplace? If the thanks were sincere, it could go a long way toward improve the working atmosphere and, quite possibly, boosting productivity, workplace experts say.

“Gratitude expressions from managers can help employees feel valued, strengthening their relationships,” says Adam Grant, a management professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “When employees feel socially valued, they work harder and longer, achieving higher performance and productivity.”

In one of his experiments, 41 fundraisers soliciting alumni donations were divided into two groups: the thanked and the un-thanked. One group heard the director say, “I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.” The other group received daily feedback on their effectiveness, but no gratitude from their director.

The result? Fundraisers in the thanked group increased their weekly call volume an average 50 percent, according to a recent study by Mr. Grant and Francesca Gino, a professor at the Harvard Business School in Boston.

It’s one piece of evidence that getting thanks raises self-esteem and confidence. “When employees feel confident in their capabilities to complete a task effectively, they are more likely to invest their time and energy in it,” Grant says.

Thankful workplaces appear to be the exception, not the rule. For instance: Only 30 percent of employees said they felt valued by their supervisors, according to a Cornerstone OnDemand online study conducted in March.

The majority of the 584 respondents weren’t “feeling appreciated or engaged in the workplace,” says Charles Coy, director of product marketing for Cornerstone OnDemand, a management and learning software provider in Santa Monica, Calif. “Employers are overlooking simple solutions that can reduce the risk of losing their top talent as the economy improves.”

One example: Bosses can personalize interactions with handwritten gratitude notes, says Peter Handal, chairman and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, an international training company for businesses based in Hauppauge, N.Y. They can close early before holidays, or hold meetings that promote open communication between employers and employees, he says. “I know a lot of managers who are afraid to give their employees compliments. They think the next time they’ll have to give them a salary increase.”

"We are so used to showing thanks through raises and bonuses," says Tatiana Androsov, senior adviser at Thanks-Giving Square, a Dallas-based organization that promotes giving thanks worldwide and year round. "Giving thanks helps only if the thanks really comes from the heart and is not just a matter of show or lip service."

Maintaining a “dominance hierarchy” is another reason employers could hold back from employee appreciation, says David DeSteno, a psychology professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “When you express gratitude to someone, you are putting yourself in a slightly lower status position.”

Bosses can also forget to thank employees when their business or industry is under a lot pressure, says Robert Sutton, author and professor at Stanford University in California. “They don’t realize the power of omitting small things like saying ‘thank you.’ ”

Of course, gratitude only works if employees feel that their supervisors are sincere, Grant says. The ‘thank you’ cannot be “an attempt to create a false sense of appreciation or manipulate them into working harder.”

Employees should also thank their bosses, Mr. Handal adds. “Everyone likes a pat on the back.”

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