Why We Don’t Say “Thank You” at Work and the Stats Behind Why We Should

Source: Michael Mandiberg. http://www.flickr.com/photos/theredproject/3302110152/

We have written in Time before about the power and importance of apologies, as well as the right and wrong ways to go about them. Here is also some interesting research on the power of gratitude, specifically within the workplace, according to a recent podcast published by HBR’s Ideacast. 

Francesca Gino, author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and Adam Grant, author of Give and Take were the experts on the podcast. According to Gino’s research, there is a “gratitude gap.” Half of us will say “thank you” on a daily basis to someone we are related to but only 15% of us say “thank you” at work. 35% of people report that their managers never say “thank you.” Why is there a disconnect? One reason is that expressing thank-you is vulnerable; it implies that I was in need and that you helped me. Another is that co-workers take each other’s support for-granted. The mindset is: “It’s just part of your job to help me so your effort doesn’t deserve your thanks.”

We all know that gratitude matters, but the numbers are startling as to how much it actually affects engagement. When people are thanked for their help, their sense of self-worth increases and they are much more likely to help the person who thanked them a second time.

From the Harvard Gazette. March 19th 2013:

Gino built on the research in a field study that looked at 41 fundraisers at a university, all receiving a fixed salary. The director visited half of the fundraisers in person, telling them, “I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.” The second group received no such expressions of gratitude.  What was the impact of the director’s thanks? “The expression of gratitude increased the number of calls by more than 50 percent” for the week, while fundraisers who received no thanks made about the same number of calls as the previous week.

“My husband is now working for a start-up. I received flowers and a note from his company’s CEO thanking me for understanding because my husband had been up all night working on a big project.” The gesture was a motivator for her husband, Gino said.

HOW analysis

The gratitude gap is another way of looking at how business has disconnected from the personal. We thank people regularly in our personal spheres but not in our work. If saying “sorry” is a manifestation of human vulnerability, then saying “thank you” can be a similar manifestation as well because it acknowledges our dependency on others.

But when we begin to merge the spheres of personal and business, gratitude inspires behaviors of productivity and engagement. The podcast does not go into the reasons why that is, but here are a few potential reasons. Perhaps the fundraisers doubled their calls because the director’s thanks validated the significance and impact of their work. For it is one thing to work on a “mission of significance” and another thing to know that your specific efforts are making a significant impact. But perhaps the fundraisers did it also out of a sense of loyalty to the director. His “thank you” deepened his relationship with each fundraiser and they responded in kind with gratitude. Whatever the reason, it pays to be human at work.

Categories: HOW: Workplace Cultures

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1 reply »

  1. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto
    a co-worker who has been doing a little research on this.
    And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time
    to talk about this topic here on your website.

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