Does anyone else out there freeze like a deer in the headlights when the issue of how to say “thank you” at work comes up? I have, probably every single year of my entire career, googled each of these phrases:
- how to say thank you at work
- how to say thank you to your boss
- should you give gifts at work?
- how to say thank you to coworkers
- what are the best ways to show gratitude or say thank you at work?
Showing gratitude at work is weirdly complicated. There are so many social dynamics at work that aren’t really around in any other areas of our lives. And so, for most people, it is only by an uncomfortable series of trial and error interactions that we figure out exactly how to say thank you at work and make it count.
And some of us never get there.
It tends to be really easy to see when you’ve done “saying thank you at work” wrong (because the other person is uncomfortable, offended, or just doesn’t know how to react), but hard to know when you’re doing it right.
In this post, I want to create a guide for how to say thank you at work based on the best widely accepted rules and smart strategies for forming trust and stronger relationships with your peers and coworkers.
Why saying thank you matters
At work, it’s often easier to say nothing than to risk saying “thanks” in the wrong way. And as such, a lot of us go about our days feeling under-appreciated or not realizing the impact our work has on other people.
People thrive at work when they know their contributions have meaning. Letting people know the ways in which their work matters — to you, to the company, to their team — helps you to keep the people around you engaged and excited about their work. Especially if you are a manager, this is an important part of your job.
Saying thank you helps to build trust and stronger relationships with the people you work with too. When people know you value them, they are more likely to value you in return and want to work with you (since you make them feel great about their contributions).
Plus, expressing gratitude isn’t just good for the people you’re thanking — it’s actually good for you too! People who say thank you are happier (it makes sense right? It feels good to help other people feel good) and are more well-liked. It’s like a self-perpetuating cycle; the more positivity you spread, the more is out there to come back to you.
How to say thank you to your boss
This is where a lot of us get the most flustered when it comes to saying thank you at work. And with good reason — it’s your manager’s job to help you accomplish your work, do amazing things, and grow as an individual so if they are a good boss, they are doing things that are worthy of a “thank you” a lot.
But no one wants to be a suck up. People who lay it on too thick with, “Thank you soo much, you are such a great boss, I just love working for you” usually come off insincere and their praise is less meaningful.
But how much praise and thanking is appropriate for a person whose job it is to help you? After all, they’re not doing it just to be nice; they are doing it because your success is their success, and they want the team to do well.
As a result of this conflict, bosses actually hear “thank you” really rarely — so when they do hear it and it is sincere, concrete, and meaningful, it can be very powerful.
So how can you say thanks to your boss in a way that means something to them and helps bring you closer?
The best way to praise or say thank you to your boss:
- only do it when it really matters, not just because you’re hoping to score a few points with them
- be direct, truthful, and concise
- keep it simple and sincere; you should be able to express yourself in 1-2 sentences tops (it’s not your job to pump up your boss or shower them with your praise)
- show them their value in an appropriate context, such as how they are helping you learn or an opportunity they facilitated
- make it specific and show the connection between what they did and what you got from it
For example, you can thank your boss for letting you accompany them to a board meeting by saying: “Thank you so much for letting me sit in on that board meeting. I learned so much from the way you ____.”
It shows that you understand the value of what they gave you (it wasn’t just a nice thing, but you actually learned something) and it has the added benefit of giving them a clue as to new opportunities that are valuable to you. So if you let them know you valued what they taught you about presenting to a board, they now know you’re interested in that and that you’d like more opportunities in that area.
And as a final note on bosses: in general, you should never buy something for your boss or treat them to a meal or coffee as a thank you. It is widely accepted that the more senior person in a relationship always pays, and so breaking with those norms can make people uncomfortable; it is better to focus on words than gifts.
How to say thank you to a peer
Our peers are the people we work most closely with, and yet our relationships at work are some of the least defined. As a result, saying thank you can feel like dicey territory.
Some people see their peers as competitors (and some company cultures actually encourage that) and saying thank you to the competition can feel wrong. Other times, it can feel uncomfortable to say thank you to a peer simply because, well, you’re on the same team so aren’t you *supposed* to just help each other without expecting gratitude?
Much like with your boss, saying thank you to a peer should be reserved for when you really mean it and you have a solid, concrete thing to thank them for. And since peer-to-peer appreciation is less common, it too can be a great way to build trust and connections.
However, unlike the manager thank you, the peer thank you should be a bit more personal. With peers, there are no 1:1 meetings or performance reviews where it’s easy to give feedback, so it is best to catch someone at their desk or send an email letting them know you appreciated something they did.
And when you say thanks, tie it to your own feelings (rather than speaking about how they helped the company, the team, etc).
The best way to thank a peer:
- be casual, sincere, and concise
- thank them for something concrete that they helped you get done or accomplish
- don’t speak for the whole team or other people (ie. “we all really appreciate ___”; instead make it about you and say something like, “I really appreciated ___” or “I thought ___ was so awesome”)
- don’t be self-deprecating or go over-the-top in your thanks; this makes people uncomfortable and can also make you seem like you’re on less equal footing
- offer to return the favor
- bonus points: return the favor proactively, rather than waiting for them to ask you to help; seek out ways to add value back to them
Saying thanks helps to show that person that you value them; returning the favor shows that you value investing in this relationship. It positions you as an ally and helps them to see you as someone who is “on their team” in the office.
You want to be someone your peers can always get value from, and who shows that the value they give back to you is appreciated.
After all, these are the people who are going to rise on the career ladder along with you, so when you are all executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders, you’ll have a supportive, valuable network of people who you can count on for trust and support.
How to say thank you to employees
This is the most prescribed “thank you” that happens at work, but it is still incredibly valuable when done right. Every employee needs to hear that they are appreciated by their manager, and the more effectively you can do that, the better results you’ll achieve from the people on your team.
Saying thank you to the people on your team is all about tailoring it to the person, their accomplishments, and helping them to use those accomplishments to grow in their career.
With that in mind, here are the best ways to say thank you to an employee:
- as always, keep it sincere and direct
- tie your thanks to a specific accomplishment — even if you want to thank the person for “always being on top of details”, you should follow it up with a specific time they were really on top of things and why that was so helpful
- let them know how much *you* appreciate it; most people are motivated by the personal approval of their leaders
- let them know the value of their work on the big picture things too — especially with junior employees, this can be a great learning opportunity to see how their great work moves big things forward
- tailor the thanks to the person and the desired effect; for example, you can take the person out for lunch if you want to show you really value and trust them, or you can thank them publicly in a team meeting to help them shine among the group, depending on what you you hope to accomplish with the thanks
Saying thank you to employees is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve employee engagement. We all want to feel like our work is valued by our employer, and we all expect most of that praise and value to come down via our managers.
The more you can make saying thank you a part of your routine, the more engaged your team will be and the more effective you’ll be as a leader. You’ll build trust and appreciation into your team culture, which is a powerful foundation to be working from.
What about giving gifts?
In general, gift-giving at work is better not done. Rather than giving gifts to your boss, peers, or team to say thank you, it is more effective and more acceptable to reward them with sincere kind words or a favor that is helpful to them in a work context.
Giving gifts should generally be reserved for clients, customers, and outside teams. For example, to say thank you to the PR team who helped you organize a recent meetup at your office, it would be appropriate to send over a box of cupcakes from a local bakery with a note thanking them for all their hard work. Similarly, if a few early customers helped you sort out bugs in the first version of your software, you could send them Amazon gift cards to say thank you.
However, if you want to thank your team for helping you meet a big deadline, it’s not appropriate to send a box of goodies. Instead, you are better off using words and gestures to express thanks.
This is especially true with your manager — you should never give gifts to your boss. At most, a card works for a holiday or birthday or other special event, but praise and gifts in general should almost always flow down, not up.
And for your teammates and employees, a sincere thank you is often more appreciated than an object. Say thanks, do favors, and look for meaningful ways to show your gratitude. Building up trust and gratitude over time is more valuable than paying money or giving gifts to show thanks.
How to make thank you’s a part of your success strategy
The best way to say thank you at work is to do it consistently. Be direct, keep it simple, and always be sincere. Saying thank you shouldn’t be a big production; it should feel natural and appropriate. When someone adds value to you, thank them and let them know you appreciate their help. Say thanks.
And as always, continue to work hard and produce amazing results for other people too — be the person who not only appreciates the value others add, but who adds incredible value to others too. Create more positivity in your environment and you’ll get more back.
Want to learn more?
Rule 41 of the second edition of “The Rules of Work” details how to use words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ effectively at work. Meanwhile, Rebels at Work discuss how to navigate the organizational landscape of your career.