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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

2 Little Words That Have a Huge Impact at Work

A friend of mine opens doors for strangers. And while I’m sure he’s trying to preserve his gentleman-like nature and will be doing this until the end of time, he’s always agitated when people don’t say thank you. Sometimes he even sarcastically whisper-shouts, “You’re welcome!” letting people know that they’ve forgotten to acknowledge that the door didn’t open with special body sensors.

This always reminds me of when I was a teenager, and my mother gave me a small sheet of paper that said: “A smile and a thank you won’t cost you a dime, but not doing either may cost you later.” At the time, I thought it was a subtle fire-and-brimstone message for some ungrateful action I committed in my adolescence. What do you mean it will cost me later? Will the ghosts of Thanksgivings past come to haunt me, or will I be forever known as the frowning selfish girl?

But a decade later, the words have stuck with me, not only when people hold the door or elevator open for me, but in my professional life as well. Turns out, saying thank you to your boss, co-workers, and the people who work for you is pretty powerful. And it doesn't cost you a thing, but it can have a big impact on how people think of you—both now and later.

Here are a few steps you can take to revive the art of thank you in the workplace (and maybe outside of it, too).

Who You Should Thank

In a word, everyone. Well, everyone who has helped you out in some way. Thank the recruiter who picked your resume out of the thousands that poured in for a position—she’ll definitely notice if you don’t. Thank your project team members for their guidance or sheer awesomeness—it’s always appreciated, it’s often reciprocated, and it usually puts people on your good side. Thank your support staff for taking the time to teach you about the power of Keurigs and faxing—our bosses will always get confetti and gratitude, but they rarely do.

Before the end of my last two weeks with my former company, I wrote a thank you card to everyone who had been beneficial to my development. I even wrote one to the guy in the cafeteria who hugged me after I cried on his pork loins while I was going through my breakup. He didn’t have to come from behind the counter to console me, but I remembered his empathy and the chocolate chip cookie he gave me that day.

By going out of your way to thank people who have helped you, you’ll not only make the work environment a better, happier place, you’ll create mutual feelings of respect and gratitude. And who couldn't use a little more of that at work?

Say It (Out Loud)

Sure, sending a thank-you email is convenient for small, internal moments like “Thanks for circling back with the client,” or, “I really appreciate your help with the project yesterday.” But don’t forget the benefits of face-to-face communication.

As an employee, when my boss thanked me for staying after hours to finish up a project, I always appreciated her telling me instead of sending an email—it was more heartfelt. So, as a small business owner, I do the same. It’s always important that my crew knows how grateful I am that they’re advancing my dream with every red velvet waffle they serve.

Saying thank you is also about timing. You don’t want to just blurt it out in the middle of a meeting or in the morning while people are on their Mailbox apps (still on the waiting list—sigh). As a leader, I like to start and end meetings on a positive note, so before and after crew meetings, I recognize team members who performed CPR on Lazarus or received praise on Twitter for customer service. The sincerity and authenticity of verbal communication, often a lost art among text messages and Twitter, can be a powerful motivator.

Or Write It

I’m all about fancy pens that make my handwriting pretty and embossed designs on Kraft paper, so when I say thank you, it’s usually in card form. Cards are particularly appropriate around a co-worker’s company anniversary, when you’re leaving a company, or after a huge event or project when someone has gone above and beyond, but you can really send them anytime. Come on, who doesn’t get a thrill from tearing open a pastel envelope and reading a message crafted just for you? (Need some professional looking cards? Check out Tiny Prints or Etsy.)

I try to keep my message short and sweet with four sentences—maybe six if I’m really thankful. In the first and second sentence, detail how the thankee contributed to your success or assisted you, such as, “Andre, I’ve always appreciated your flexibility when my reports are tardy for the party,” or, “Jessica, thank you so much for working at the event all weekend.” Feel free to be personal—you can definitely tell your co-worker how swagtastic you think she is (as long as said co-worker is not the vice president). The third and fourth sentences can be general messages like, “I appreciate learning something new with this company every day,” or, “Thank you for being such an integral part of the team.” No matter what, make sure it's specific, heartfelt, and genuine.

The Power of Thank-You

Recently, one of the vice presidents of a company I worked for wrote me a thank you email thanking me for the thank you card. She told me that it was a pleasure working with me and that she would be more than happy to provide a recommendation for me in the future. Now, I’m sure I could get a recommendation from her if I had asked, but the point is, going out of my way to say thank you left a lasting, positive impression. People notice when you say thanks, and—as I’ve learned from my friend the door-holder—they notice when you don’t.

Of course, I’m not saying you should give out thank yous expecting something in return, but it’s important to build bridges with your supervisors and co-workers, and regularly expressing gratitude is a great way to do it.

I’ve also found that being mindful of what others do for me keeps me in a constant space of gratefulness, and I’m more likely to pay it forward by doing things like taking the new hire under my wing or staying an extra hour to help out a team member.

And if you need even more convincing, research suggests that people who express gratitude daily experience lower levels of stress and boosted immune systems. So, apparently, it’s not just good for your career—it’s good for you.

Photo courtesy of MoneyAware.