How to Express Gratitude to Your Team

A floral thank you card on a white surface next to a gold pen

“You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.” — Zig Ziglar 

A little gratitude can go a long way, but sometimes it can be difficult to express at work because of hectic deadlines or busy schedules. It’s not that we don’t want to say thank you to our fellow colleagues, but that we don’t know exactly how to do it.

After all, it can feel a little awkward because practicing gratitude toward others in the workplace doesn’t always feel professional; however, it is worth it. Science has shown that expressing gratitude is good for both the recipient and the giver, and it gets easier the more you do it.

Other studies — while still limited — have linked workplace gratitude to more positive emotions, less stress, employees using fewer sick days, and a deeper satisfaction with the job. 

Gratitude has even become an official cornerstone of major companies, like Southwest Airlines, who put an emphasis on making sure their workers feel appreciated, according to a report from Greater Good Magazine. 

Why? Leaders at Southwest know that employees who feel supported at work tend to stay in their jobs longer and work more efficiently. Investing in the well-being of employees is good for everybody.

“[Gratitude is] going to make your business more profitable, you’re going to be more effective, your employees will be more engaged—but if that’s the only reason you’re doing it, your employees are going to think you’re using them,” Steve Foran, founder of the program Gratitude at Work, told the magazine. 

Gratitude must be sincere if you want to reap its benefits; luckily, other researchers believe that gratitude acts as a kind of “gateway drug” to empathy and so once you start, it’s easy to keep going. 

Getting started with expressing gratitude at work

A natural place to start is with a quick note to say thanks to members of your team. It’s a small act that can have a big impact. It may even start or expand a culture of gratitude within your workplace.

Think about how you felt the last time you received a thank you note for your hard work or performing well on a task. It probably felt pretty good to be noticed, and made you want to keep that momentum up! Everyone likes to feel like their work matters.

For many employees, that nod to a job well done is motivating and encouraging. It’s positive reinforcement, which research has shown works well in work settings. Yes, money is a big motivating factor, but non-cash rewards (like receiving a simple thank you) can have positive effects, too. Psychology researcher Bob Nelson said in his research that “some of the most effective forms of reward cost nothing at all.”

“A sincere word of thanks from the right person at the right time can mean more to an employee than a raise,” he said.

That notion has been tested time and time again since he came to that conclusion in the mid-90s, and it still holds true. 

Here’s where to start with a thank you note for an employee or team member: 

Step 1: Gather your supplies

This may seem obvious, but you’re going to want to keep a few thank you notes on hand. If your work environment is more casual, reach for something lighthearted and maybe a bit colorful. If you need something a bit more professional, try neutral colors and a script font

Regular stationary — like the Foil Animal Notepad collection — can work well for a quick note with the right amount of detail. A thank you doesn’t have to be super fancy to get the point across! 

While you could say thanks in passing, a handwritten note goes so much further than a Slack message or email. It’s so much more personal and the recipient is sure to notice the effort you put into that gratitude.

Step 2: Address the recipient personally

If you're writing a lot of thank you notes at once, make sure you're not sacrificing personal connection for the sake of efficiency.

Make sure to write each person's name in the greeting, so they know this isn't just a form letter you're sending out to everyone. Writing out their name will also help you make a mental connection with the actual person and remind you of the wonderful things you appreciate about them.

Step 3: Say thanks, and be specific

Few things are as disappointing as getting a thank you so vague it feels like it could be for anyone. Your thank you note, in order to be meaningful and worthwhile, must be specific. Being too vague might come off as insincere, which is worse than not even saying thank you in the first place. 

Of course, you always want to be professional -- but there is room for genuine appreciation and sincere thanks. Aim to keep this section down to 2-3 sentences; a note does not have to be long to be meaningful. You don't have to gush with praise; instead, just be clear and sincere.

A few points to keep in mind:

- Remember that praise does not have to be related to their specific role. If you have an engineer who consistently asks smart questions in meetings, you can thank them for those traits that are not directly related to the job you hired them for. In fact, noticing those things can often be especially meaningful, since they are example of a person going over and above.

- If you're writing a general thank you that simply highlights their overall hard work, that’s important too! A hard worker appreciates their hard work being noticed.

- If you can’t pinpoint one event or example you want to highlight, make sure you’re clear in how much they mean to the project or workplace. If you need inspiration, feel free to use some of these lines and add specifics as needed: 

  • Thank you for all of the hard work you put in! It’s always so appreciated. 
  • You always go above and beyond. It’s so great to have you on the team! 
  • Thanks for _____. You make our office a nicer place to work!  
  • For all the little things and the big things — thanks! 
  • Your enthusiasm and dedication never fail to make an impact on the work we do! 

When getting specific, you can show gratitude by including how that action helped you or the team or how it went above expectations. Thank them for putting in the extra time to help you complete something and let them know what amazing outcomes that work resulted in.

People like to know when they’re doing a good job; this is the most important part of the note to get right!

Step 3: Sign off with sincerity 

Make sure you close out the note with a salutation that is appropriate for the letter. For professional settings “sincerely”, “best”, or “many thanks” almost always work well. 

Sign the note and make sure it gets to the recipient. Hand deliver it with a smile, if you really want to make an impact.

Sometimes saying thank you at work feels too vulnerable and uncomfortable; however, it is worth it to push through your discomfort and let the people on your team know how much you value them and their work. In just a few minutes of writing, you could make someone's day!

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