Bear Hugs and Thank You’s: Why Saying ‘Thanks’ Means So Much


Here at MeritShare, we strive to help companies motivate their employees by offering a way to give recognition where it is earned. It has been proven that employees who receive thanks and feel that their work is being appreciated will perform better than those who do not receive recognition. This probably does not seem surprising, but I feel that there is more to the story than just a simple act of gratitude, and I would like to explore the psychology behind it.

An article by Jeremy Dean for PsychCentral discusses why giving thanks is not just a nice thing to do for others, but it is also beneficial to the self. Studies show that giving thanks can “improve well-being, physical health, can strengthen social relationships, produce positive emotional states and help us cope with stressful times in our lives”. Personally I feel that this is very true, for I have often experienced what giving and receiving appreciation can do for the heart and mind. When I show gratitude to a friend or loved one, such as buying them flowers or simply telling them how much I love them, I love seeing the biggest smile on their face. Making others happy and making others smile is what makes me smile. It’s like a contagious disease, but a truly wonderful one that I don’t mind being spread all over.

Besides the warm fuzzy feelings it gives us, expressing gratitude can also be beneficial in that people will like you more and be more willing to help you if they believe you appreciate their help. Based on studies published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dean attributes this to the way receiving thanks boosts self-esteem. In one study, those who received a thank you email after providing feedback were more willing to provide further assistance to that person. What is even more intriguing is that those who received the email were more likely to help someone else out, not just the person who gave them thanks. I find this to be a crucial point that extends even beyond this topic for it is a way we can perpetuate peace and generosity throughout the world. It is clear that gratitude is an extremely powerful emotion that can significantly affect your attitude, which in turn affects others and their attitudes.

It’s kind of like that story: A man goes to work and his boss chews him out, so he goes home and takes out his frustrations on his wife, who yells at her son, who beats the dog. It might be a little extreme, but I don’t think anyone can deny that they have never once taken their anger out on someone who didn’t deserve it when they’ve been having a bad day. It happens. This is why I’m encouraging people to give thanks and practice positivity, because it spreads. If you thank someone and offer kindness, not only will they be more likely to offer it back, but will pay it forward to others. This helps everybody, not just you or one person, but everyone you both come into contact with.

Think about it, and practice giving thanks every day. Tell a coworker how much you appreciate all of the hard work they’ve been doing. Give out hugs (it releases oxytocin!). Say “thank you” to strangers who hold the door open for you. It’s not just having manners, it’s boosting self-esteem and propagating positivity to create a better future for you and for future generations. In a time where we are constantly at war while destroying each other and our earth, it is crucial that we support each other and come together, rather than pushing ourselves even further apart.

Thank you so much for reading, and thank you to Kevin Nakao and Travis Pearl for this learning opportunity and for always encouraging my creative freedom. Cheers!

How To Motivate: The Research Behind Recognition

What motivates us?

In his popular TED Talk (see the full video below) behavioral economist Dan Ariely recently discussed not only why we work, but what kind of behavior and environments increase productivity and help people thrive in the workplace.

Ariely points out that there are examples all around us that show people are motivated by things beyond a paycheck, crossing a finish line or meeting a goal:

  • Mountain climbers face enormous challenges and setbacks on the way to climbing to the top of the mountain.
  • An employee worked on a project day and night for over 2 weeks when it was cancelled the day before the due date, leaving the worker, who said he felt quite happy while working on the project, feeling depressed when he realized that no one would see his work.

We want to receive recognition for the “fruits of our labor”, says Ariely, and know that our work has meaning. He conducted two experiments to explore this notion.

In a study using Legos, two groups of people were paid to build multiple Lego kits. In one group, the completed pieces would be disassembled at the end of the experiment; in the second, each person saw their first creation taken apart as they built a second.

Outside observers predicted that the first group – where their work had been acknowledged – would build more Lego kits, but thought the difference would be negligible.

  • In fact, the group whose work was valued showed over 63% more productivity compared to the group whose work was disregarded.

This dynamic is at play in the working world. At one company, 200 workers spent two years working on a project that was suddenly shut down. The employees reported feeling depressed and unmotivated and their behavior at work changed. They started:

  • Showing up for work later
  • Leaving work earlier
  • Possibly ‘fudging’ expense report items

When asked what could have made them feel that their work efforts were not wasted and drive employee engagement, they suggested:

  • Internal presentation of the project to the company
  • Analyze what aspects of their project could be incorporated into other aspects of the company

In  Ariely’s “Shredder” experiment, people were asked to complete a written puzzle, and then each paper was placed in one of three groups, where 1) someone looked at it quickly, uttered a quick “Uh-huh” and put it on a pile; 2) no one looked at the paper and it went into in a pile; or 3) the papers went directly into a shredder.

There’s good news and bad news coming out of this “Shredder” study:

  • Ignoring people’s  performance is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of them, but
  • Minimal recognition can dramatically improve a worker’s motivation

The act of recognition provides acknowledgement and is the best source of motivation .  You don’t have to sit around and wait for this to happen, you can kick start a culture of recognition by starting with a simple thanks to a co-worker.

[ted id=1706]


MeritShare: Best Quotes About Recognition

Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone
-G.B. Stern

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder
-G.K. Chesterton

Gratitude is the best attitude
-Author Unknown

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all
-William Faulkner

Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices
-Thomas Fuller

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention
-Oscar Wilde

Say Thank You

Follow-up Fail
I’m amazed at the number of job applicants I have interviewed that fail to follow-up with a thank you note or email.  Except for engineering and technical positions, I won’t hire any business, sales, or marketing applicant if they don’t send a note.  As a consequence, I’ve had to reject some candidates.  I view the note like a background check,  the applicant must first earn the position based on their skill sets, experiences, and fit — the thank you note is on the “due diligence” check-off list.

Don’t HIre Someone Who Doesn’t Send A Follow-up Note:
The reason I reject candidates who fail to send the note is not that I expect some sort of gratitude, but I believe it is a true behavioral test of the candidates ability to follow-up and execute.  If the candidate fails to deliver on something as easy and free (email) as a thank you note, how will they perform on the job with colleagues and customers?  A resume can contain a lot of information about a candidate, but their behavior during and after an interview provides insights into how they might perform on the job.  I would never hire a candidate on this criteria alone, it’s just a basic requirement all good employees should follow.

Thank You Note Tips
The follow-up or thank you note also gives you another opportunity to make another great impression.  Consider the following ideas to include in a thank you note:

  • If you stumbled during a critical part of the interview, use the follow-up or thank you note to better explain your position & demonstrate your knowledge.
  • Make sure the potential employer knows you have the experience to deliver on the critical job requirements.  Provide an additional example of your relevant experience you didn’t bring up in the interview, giving the employer another proof point.
  • Many times an employer will mention a key challenge or opportunity they are facing.  Research the topic and find a relevant article and send a link in the follow-up note.  This shows the potential employer you were listening & stay current on relevant industry insights and information.
  • Block off time right after your interviews to send the thank you notes out.  With mobile devices, you can really impress by sending the note shortly after the interview.  Many companies need employees that can move faster and sending a note out quickly demonstrates this trait.

The most important action is to send the note.  If you don’t have time to utilize the above tips, a simple thank you will suffice.  Just do it, just say thank you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this ; ).