The Business Case for Giving Thanks Revisited: What’s Stopping You?

Last year I wrote about the business case for giving thanks. At the time, I did not think this was groundbreaking or even new information. My intent was simply to present some research supporting the benefits of gratitude, and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, this seemed like a fitting time to discuss the topic. It turns out that what I thought was obvious received more pushback from readers then I could have expected.

With all the responses I received, nobody argued about whether gratitude was beneficial; they were more concerned with the cost-benefit analysis…and herein lies the misunderstanding. Most leadership development programs discuss motivation, but without much direction, leaders interpret this as elaborate (i.e. costly) displays of appreciation. While blowout events are fun, I cannot stress enough that they are meaningless if you are not also dolling out a consistent dose of thank yous.

An analysis of 51 separate experiments found overwhelming evidence that “incentives may reduce an employee’s natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so.” That’s right, the financial incentives you rely on to motivate your team are often doing the opposite.

Instead of using money to express gratitude, a widely cited study by Glassdoor found that 80% of employees are willing to work harder for an appreciative supervisor, and 70% said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their supervisor thanked them more regularly. Do you know how much is costs to thank someone regularly? Let’s say you make $50k a year, which is $24.04/hour. With ten employees and an average of one compliment per week, you would spend at most ten minutes a week telling people they are doing good work. At the end of the year, this comes out to $208 of your time. You spend more than that on your monthly Starbucks visits.

In another study, researchers divided participants into two groups and asked them to make fundraising calls to solicit alumni donations. One group followed the traditional method while another group was given a speech by the program director, who expressed gratitude for their efforts. The group who received the pep talk made 50% more fundraising calls than those who did not. The speech lasted less than five minutes and cost nothing except prep time.

Expressing gratitude is the least expensive initiative you can implement and has the highest return on investment. Micro-expressions of gratitude are preferable to relying on a company-wide recognition program and can be delivered more frequently and with more sincerity. I could give you a list of ways to say thanks, but nothing works better than just saying “Thanks.” Want to go all out? Buy a stack of post-it notes to write thank you notes that can be left on team member’s desks.

I’m not asking a lot and neither are your employees. Make a conscious effort to tell them they are doing a good job. Do it consistently (at least once a week). Be specific about what you are complimenting. Keep it sincere. Make this the Thanksgiving were you actually give thanks. And if you start now, maybe you can forestall their New Year’s resolution to find a new job.

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