Why Gratitude Pays at Work

This time of year, we gather at home with friends and family to give thanks for the good things in our lives. But gratitude can also be helpful in another key setting: the workplace. Famed business leader and author Dale Carnegie believed that “the big secret of dealing with people is to give honest and sincere appreciation.”

Peter Handal, Chairman, CEO and President of Dale Carnegie Training, adds that showing appreciation for the people you work with "helps create a team and helps people feel like they belong."

Perhaps even more importantly, though, "In this economy when jobs are in such short supply and there are myriad qualified workers out there, gratitude toward your boss and co-workers can also save your job," says Nacie Carson, Director of Learning and Development at Cleaver Company, a Boston-based management firm. "You will be less expendable if the team works well with you and is willing to fight for you."

With that in mind, here are some tips on saying, “Thanks” to your boss, your coworkers, your intern, and anyone else who cruises by the water cooler.

1. Make it appropriate to the relationship.

Traditionally, employees aren't expected to give their boss or those above them a gift. In fact, Handal says that gifts can actually make people uncomfortable. A simple, sincere “Thank you” in person or a nice handwritten card should suffice for your boss. "In this digital world where we’re all so used to text messaging, the person-to-person connection really is most effective," adds Handal. If, on the other hand, you're thanking your intern or assistant, a small token of appreciation is acceptable. Perhaps a gift card for her favorite coffee shop or a bag of the type of candy he loves could accompany a card or verbal thank you.

2. Use specifics and be sincere.

"Generalization doesn’t have the kind of impact that a specific thank you has," says Handal. He recommends that you direct your thanks to a specific thing that the person did. Rather than simply saying, "Thanks for your hard work," mention a specific time when your boss gave you a pep talk before a presentation or your assistant stayed late to finish a project. That shows how much you genuinely notice and appreciate their work.

3. Don't wait for the holidays.

Most people remember to say thanks during the holiday season, but not everyone takes time to say it other times of the year. "Yes, Thanksgiving is a good time to look back over the last year," says Handal, “but it shouldn’t be a once a year thing. It should be day in, day out." As Carson points out, it's a good idea to dole out casual praise throughout the year rather than holding off for a big project or a special occasion. Unexpected thank yous help people stay motivated year round.

4. Accept gratitude graciously.

Sometimes when a thank you catches us off-guard, we're apt shrug it off or have an "aw, shucks" moment because we're uncomfortable. But as Handal says, "A very simple, direct ‘You’re welcome!’ is more appropriate.” Then take a moment to enjoy the praise and let it sink in before you return to work.

Boston-based freelance writer Susan Johnston has covered career and business topics for "The Boston Globe," "Hispanic Executive Quarterly," WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other publications.

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