It’s a simple phrase, short and sweet. But how often does it actually come out of your mouth? It’s kind of surprising how hard it really is to make saying “thank you” something that comes naturally instead of another item on your to-do list.
Except it is hard. It can slip your mind. You’re not sure how to say it, or show it. And sometimes it feels awkward (complimenting—giving and receiving—doesn’t come easily to everyone).
But none of these excuses gets rid of people’s innate need to feel valued and appreciated—to be praised and recognized—for their work.
So we asked the Young Entrepreneur Council, “How do you express gratitude to your people?” to make sure you’re spreading the appropriate amount of thanksgiving around your office:
1. Express gratitude when they don’t expect it.
When something is expected, it’s hardly valued. And a general “thank you” seems less sincere than recognition for a specific action. So, I’ll randomly send an email note to a team member that just says: “Thanks for a specific past action, so glad you’re here and what can I do to make your life better?” I ask this last question so they know that I support them and will go out of my way to help.
—Alan Carniol, Interview Success Formula
2. Write personal notes.
I’ve found that taking a few minutes to write a personal (handwritten) note to an employee goes a long way. Doing quarterly fun activities to build teamwork and show our appreciation to the staff as a whole also works wonders. We’ve also given unexpected bonuses when an employee consistently goes above and beyond.
—Angela Harless, AcrobatAnt
3. Boost work-life benefits.
You should always thank your employees for their hard work. However, actions are always better than words, so make it as easy as possible for them to maintain a good work-life balance. Empower them to do what they need to in and out of the office. Offer flexible work schedules, generous paid time off and up-to-date tools to keep communication easy and open.
—Zach Robbins, Leadnomics
4. Hold Friday lunches.
It sounds basic, but it’s gone a long way for our culture. We order lunch every Friday for our company. We all stop working, get together in the break room and banter back and forth while eating lunch. It has been a great way to get to know each other and build great relationships.
—Brandon Stapper, 858 Graphics
5. Use your words.
Sit down with an employee and tell them how much you appreciate their work. From the other side of the table, it can be nerve-wracking not knowing what your boss thinks of you. Nothing goes further than authenticity. Don’t wrap your feelings up in trophies or money. Just have a human-to-human conversation.
—Slater Victoroff, Indico Data
6. Find out what motivates them.
Whether or not you are a large team, it’s important to recognize that everyone has a different motivator and measures success differently. For instance, some people are motivated by money while others are motivated by project completion. I like one-on-one meetings where I can ask each member how they personally measure success. That way I can show gratitude in a way that makes them feel valued.
—Nina Ojeda, Terkel
7. Stop patting them on the back and start rewarding.
Everyone loves being told they’re doing a good job. But most great employees already know they’re doing a good job. Instead of telling them, show them. People like tangible rewards. Bonuses, company retreats or an occasional “gift” after a particularly successful quarter can go a long way in solidifying loyalty and showing your team you recognize their hard work.
—Blair Thomas, EMerchantBroker
8. Ask for feedback and act on it.
I believe employees feel appreciated when I ask them for feedback and actually act on it. We send a weekly net promoter score survey to our entire team, and I read it every week. Then, I act on the recurring comments. It can be as simple as getting a better coffee machine, which we did last month. I was amazed how much of a celebration that caused!
—Chris Goward, WiderFunnel
9. Add gratitude to your daily routine.
When things move really quickly it’s easy to forget to thank the people you work with every day. That’s why we created a daily routine to express our gratitude. We set 15 minutes aside to discuss what we’re working on and what our core values are. We share examples of how our colleagues displayed these core values, and we acknowledge those who put them into action.
10. Keep it simple and meaningful.
It’s the little things that mean the most. Nothing beats looking someone in the eye and expressing heartfelt gratitude. I also use handwritten thank-you notes liberally. In addition, we also use a custom, in-house platform powered by WeVue for continuous feedback and communication. It helps the whole team share feedback and recognition with each other daily.
—Chris Cancialosi, gothamCulture
This article was published in November 2015 and has been updated. Photo by