Balancing act: Why don't we thank our coworkers, bosses?

Published: Monday, Nov. 26 2012 10:01 a.m. MST

Research indicates that offerings of gratitude in the workplace are rare.

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Last week, I used this space to thank several people — family, friends and colleagues — for helping me achieve better work/life balance during the last year.

However, that wasn't the first time the people in any of those groups have heard words of gratitude from me.

I'm a big believer in expressing appreciation to people for their efforts at work, at home, at school or wherever. I've learned over time that sincere thanks I've received have not only helped me feel better about myself, but also have motivated me to work harder and accomplish more.

Apparently, though, not everyone feels that way, especially in the workplace.

As evidence of this, my wife brought to my attention an article by Sue Shellenbarger in the Nov. 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Under the headline of "Showing Appreciation at the Office? No, Thanks," the story cites research indicating that offerings of gratitude in the workplace are rare, even though "employees who feel appreciated are more productive and loyal."

"The workplace ranks dead last among the places people express gratitude, from homes and neighborhoods to places of worship," Shellenbarger wrote in The Wall Street Journal piece. "Only 10 percent of adults say thanks to a colleague every day, and just 7 percent express gratitude daily to a boss, according to a survey this year of 2,007 people for the John Templeton Foundation of West Conshohocken, Pa., a nonprofit organization that sponsors research on creativity, gratitude, freedom and other topics.

"Spouses, partners, children, parents, friends and mere acquaintances are up to four times more likely to get a thank-you, participants said. Even a salesperson or mail carrier usually rates better, says Janice Kaplan of New York, an author and editor who oversaw the survey."

At first, I was shocked by those statistics. Really? Only 10 percent of adults thank a coworker daily?

As I think back over my career, I seem to remember receiving words of thanks from colleagues almost every day, and I hope I was just as likely to tell others how much I appreciated them.

I'm sure I'm not perfect in this regard, but I really do try to offer sincere, specific thanks to people with whom I work — including my boss — on a routine basis. After all, they do tasks that are worthy of gratitude every time we're in the office.

Those two words — specific and sincere — are the keys to offering gratitude in the workplace, I think. (And I believe the same goes for saying thanks at home.) If you are sincerely grateful for the help others provide, and you thank them by mentioning the specific action or task that drew your attention, it's sure to make them (and you) feel good.

And those good feelings can translate into some fairly tangible results, according to the Journal article.

"More than half of human-resources managers say showing appreciation for workers cuts turnover, and 49 percent believe it increases profit, according to a study of 815 managers released last week by the Society for Human Resource Management," Shellenbarger wrote.

"Even the crustiest managers acknowledge that acknowledgment matters. Jack Welch, the former General Electric chief executive who is famed for his business philosophy of ceaseless, rigorous review and improvement, says he thanked employees on every plant tour and facility visit. 'If you don't do it, you don't have a culture. You are just a bunch of bricks and mortar,' he says."

I mentioned last week that I liked the culture we have on my team at work, and I've enjoyed similar experiences with other teams. I believe the expression of sincere gratitude has been a big part of building those positive cultures.

If you want to have a workplace that's highly productive, fun and built on mutual respect, offering regular thanks to colleagues is key. No matter how brilliant you may be (or think you are), you're not likely to reach your highest potential at work if you don't have help from others.

And if other people are lending a hand, you really should tell them you appreciate it. Didn't your mom always tell you it's important to work and play well with others? And wasn't she always right about such things?

From my perspective, there's no better time than the holiday season to turn over a new leaf when it comes to expressing gratitude. As such, I'm challenging myself — and you — to offer sincere, specific thanks daily to a coworker and/or boss. Let's see if we can work together to boost that abysmal 10 percent figure quoted in the Journal article.

Who knows? We might just build better businesses while we're at it.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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