Gratitude as a management tool

A simple thank you can go a long way.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 29 Jun 2020

It was a tough month. A team member down (due to illness) and a print deadline looming meant we were up against it regardless of the worry caused by an emerging global pandemic. 

I love what I do, but after a month of extra early mornings and late nights needed to get the magazine to press, it’s easy to feel disheartened. Then a message popped into my inbox from my editor headed: “Thank you for all of your hard work.”

It may seem obvious that the simple act of showing appreciation, especially during tough times, will boost employee engagement, and it is hardly a new concept among management thinkers. 

But in furious, heads down, all-hands-to-the-pump times, it can be easy to forget to take the time out to say a simple thanks to your team - something that can be even harder when we’re not seeing people face to face. But it pays to remember. 

There’s a reason gratitude has been described as the highest ROI management tool. “When you highlight people’s strengths, it ignites them, and they want to give more,” says Dan Cable, London Business School professor of organisational psychology, who discussed the idea of gratitude and organisations in a recent LBS webinar

“In companies, we tend to be happier telling people what they are bad at: where they messed up, what they need to improve,” says Cable. “In the past, organisations got results through fostering fear because repeating tried and tested tasks and practices produced a competitive advantage. Fear is great for focusing people, even if it makes them sick.” 

Other studies have shown that we actively undervalue the impact that giving praise and saying thanks can have on a person’s wellbeing - and your own. 

A 2016 US-focused Gallup study found that staff who do not feel recognised for their achievements are twice as likely to say they’ll quit the firm next year. The researchers behind the study recommend that praise and employee feedback should be frequent - as much as every seven days

This can range from a simple communication of recognition in public or private, to assigning greater responsibilities or even monetary rewards. But it is “most memorable” when recognition comes from an employee’s line manager.  

Lockdown data highlights the importance of regular communication between managers and employees. An Institute of Employment Studies survey of the wellbeing of people working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic showed that while employees’ mental health had deteriorated during the lockdown, the impact was less among those that had regular contact with their managers. 

However there are some important things to remember. A thanks will only go so far if working longer and harder hours are continually the norm. Likewise needlessly rewarding employees who are not the highest performing can affect the performance of those that are.  

Thanks also won’t have the desired impact if it feels inauthentic or insincere. There’s nothing less motivating than the CEO clearly reading a script concocted by a member of the HR team, whether they’re thanking you for all your hard work or not. 


Image credit: Compassionate Eye Foundation/Martin Barraud via Getty Images

Stephen Jones

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