New research has found that people who receive appreciative emails feel much more grateful than is generally realized – they love getting such “thank-you” notes. You can start writing appreciative emails as well – so easy and effective to do.
Researchers quoted in the New York Times said people under-estimate the positive feelings such responses bring. They also over-estimate the extent to which such notes might appear insincere or might make the recipient feel uncomfortable.
Study findings were based on short “gratitude letters” to a person who had affected the sender in some way, for example, people who had offered guidance through job searches and tough times. Most letters took less than 5 minutes to write. Most recipients cared about the warmth of the attitude expressed rather than how well the words were written. Many recipients said they were “ecstatic” to receive the notes. The lesson from this is to start writing appreciative emails.
The overall finding: people tend to undervalue the positive effect they can have on others by spending even a very short time on writing appreciative notes.
So why don’t people start writing more appreciative emails?
People tended to under-estimate the value of sending such a note to another person. Also, many seemed concerned with how much their writing would be scrutinized.
As an example, I experienced great feelings of gratitude when I received this appreciative email from one of my newsletter subscribers in 2023. He had received all my newsletters since August 2011. It made my day!:
Let me take this opportunity to thank you very much for doing what you do…[and] the tremendous value it has brought me over the years. You taught me (and likely many more) the ABC of PR by virtue of real-world knowledge. That’s far more superior than a classroom setting.
Gratitude can be contagious
Gratitude communication is now a field of study in which academics analyze the best ways to express thanks. Psychologists have found correlations between gratitude and improved physical and mental health, empathy, and even sleep quality. Your gratitude wins trust and respect from others. What’s more, when influential people do it, the results are powerful, according to experts.
The best known example of gratitude behavior is Douglas Conant, former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company (annual revenue US$7 billion+ and around 17,000+ employees worldwide), who sent 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to employees, among many other management initiatives, during his 10 years as chief.
Conant said expressing gratitude was a key to turning around the company, which was struggling when he took over. As an introvert, he found this a powerful way to reach out to many employees in its international network.
Conant said managers tend to focus on fixing what’s broken and forget to celebrate successes. So he started writing 10-20 thank-you notes each day to company staff, by hand, during his train ride home, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer:
I wanted them to know it was from me, that I was personally paying attention. What I found is, the more I say ‘Thank you for a job well done,’ the more engaged the people I work with become; the more they celebrate the contributions of their peers.”
His number one tip is to mean it when you thank others. “People can tell when you don’t,” he said.
Apparently Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is another devotee of thank-you notes. In 2014, Zuckerberg challenged himself to handwrite one thank-you note per day. (Not sure how well he succeeded!)
What do you write in a “thank-you” note?
You can briefly follow this sequence in a thank-you note (handwritten or emailed) or in a person-to-person presentation:
- Address the person by their first name as this is more friendly than standing on formality.
- Specifically state what was done that is being recognized. Being specific is vital because it identifies and reinforces the desired behavior.
- Explain how the behavior made you feel (assuming you felt some pride or respect for their accomplishment).
- Point out the value added to your team or organization by the behavior.
- Wherever possible, briefly point out the way in which the behavior supports an organizational goal or objective. This shows a direct connection between their work and your organizational goals and objectives – a strategic reinforcement.
- Thank the person again by name for their contribution.
Give praise in other ways as well
Everyone wants to feel they are valued, to see themselves in a positive light. This is a fundamental human motivation proven by research. People are prepared to contribute more if they feel they are achieving something worthwhile. You can read more about 8 magic words that workers love.
I am a huge supporter of employee recognition, and have introduced these programs into various organizations. The above formula shows how you can simply express your appreciation to your peers and to the people who report to you in the workplace.
If you want to find out more on how and when to recognize employees for good work, my helpful ebook, Employee Recognition: The secret to great team performance, explains how to implement this fabulous activity in your team or within your whole organization.
Article updated in 2024.