These are stressful times—and nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace. ‘The Great Resignation,’ in which millions of workers are choosing to quit their jobs in search of something new, is in full swing. What’s worse is that what we’re seeing now might only be the tip of the iceberg. According to research from Microsoft and Gallup, some 41% of the global workforce, and nearly 50% of employees in the U.S., are actively looking for a new job.
Yet, according to new research from the firm Workhuman, employers might be overlooking the most powerful weapon in their arsenal when it comes to keeping and attracting talent: Saying thank you. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, there’s no better time to start giving thanks where they’re due.
The numbers tell the story
While it might seem like an oversimplification, giving thanks can be a great way to positively impact someone’s day and work, says Rosette Cataldo, Vice President, Performance and Talent Strategy at Workhuman. In fact, according to her firm’s survey of some 3,500 global workers, how recently they received thanks can be an impactful indicator of a person’s willingness to stay at their current company.
The study found that:
Workers thanked and recognized for their work are half as likely to be looking for a new job (26% versus 49%)
Thanked employees are twice as likely to be highly engaged at work (60% versus 32%)
Employees who feel recognized are three times as likely to think their work has meaning and purpose (53% versus 18%)
And employees who feel recognized also report being happier at work (47% versus 11%)
Keeping it real
Of course, saying thank you must be more than just a box to check. “Gratitude is something that you truly feel,” says Cataldo. Authentic gratitude has the biggest impact on those around us. According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a Workhuman speaker and leading gratitude expert, gratitude can be defined as:
An affirmation of goodness
A recognition that the source of goodness is outside of ourselves
“When you express gratitude or offer recognition you should never expect something in return,” says Cataldo. “Otherwise, the gratitude or recognition can come off as forced and inauthentic. It’s difficult to say whether employees will feel manipulated or not, but it is possible that it won’t have the positive impact intended.
“If this is ever a concern, always establish your intention, and make sure it’s a genuine one, before giving recognition or expressing gratitude.”
While it might be tempting to thank employees only for performance-based accomplishments—like hitting a sales target—it shouldn’t start or stop there.
Cataldo points to examples like thanking someone for lending a hand on a project, providing a different perspective in a brainstorm or meeting, being a positive influence in the workplace or even for remaining dedicated and committed to your organization through the difficult events we’ve all faced over the past year.
“Find little, but impactful moments to recognize your employees and don’t just look ‘down’ the org chart but ‘up’ it as well,” she says. “Start by highlighting smaller milestones or difficult projects. If the team had to quickly pivot to meet a tight deadline, that’s a great success to celebrate and remember to highlight the impact it had on the business, but more importantly the people it positively affected.”
The events of the past year have no doubt been difficult for everyone. In fact, according to Workhuman’s report, 64% of people reported that they’ve experienced burnout in their career. Alarmingly, 41% of workers said that burnout happened in the past few months.
Regularly expressing gratitude and giving recognition is a great place to start working on morale, but unless steps are taken to ease the pressure workers are feeling, it could be perceived as insincere and even manipulative. Companies should listen when employees share how supported they feel in the workplace—as well as their ideas about how to improve those conditions.
That can often begin by taking the time to listen to employees at your regular check-ins about how you might make things easier for them. “People want to feel heard, included and supported,” says Cataldo. “If your employees are tired and burnt out, they need to feel empowered to speak up so that you can address those issues. Incorporate opportunities for your employees to provide consistent feedback on the current work environment and create an environment that feels safe to share concerns, without fear of retaliation.”
Then, of course, be sure to thank them for their insights—and give them serious consideration.
A new thankful routine
Finally, expressing gratitude should never be treated as a one-off transaction. Rather, embrace the idea that there are moments to celebrate and reinforce on a daily basis. The key is to keep your eyes open for positives and then share those moments back to your employees.
If you can make gratitude a part of your routine, you’ll build morale, trust and stronger personal connections across the organization.