3 ways to say thank you to employees

National Employee Appreciation Day

National Employee Appreciation Day is a time to recognise achievements and say thank you.

Now, it goes without saying that we should recognise employees for the work they do as much as we can and it’s pretty depressing that we even need a day to remind us of this fact. But remember, appreciation wanes over time.

As Hayley Exon, Head of Reward & Recognition told me recently, recognition lasts approximately 3-weeks in an employee’s memory and feeling bank.

So, what are the 3 things you can do to thank your employees?

1. Make it public

The expression “thank you” derives from the word “think.” It is all about remembering and marking a moment. Thank you, translates as “I will remember what you did for me.”

With that in mind, marking moments and storing them away for use later is an effective way to enhance appreciation. Don’t just say thanks for one incidence, encourage leaders to pull together two or three examples of where an employee (or a team) has performed well, and put that in written communication.

When you show that you remember good work, and recall that work, then your thanks is more genuine.

Take time to regularly write a message of thanks to teams, and back that thanks up with evidence.

2. Make it real

In this online age of email, tweets and meme-sharing it’s so easy to fire of a thank you. That’s why writing a message of appreciation using pen and ink can be so powerful.

I still have three letters from team members who wrote to me when they left ‘The Team’. I can not bring myself to let go of those letters and they are still in my drawer. They are somehow more important because they are a physical reminder of someone’s appreciation.

The CEO of Pepsi witnessed this first hand when she wrote to the parents of employees thanking them for the job they had done is raising a child who she valued as a colleague.

It takes time to write a physical letter, but it is worth it.

3. Make it easy

Ten years ago, British Gas approached us with a problem. Their employees weren’t using their recognition platform to show their appreciation for peers.

They were perplexed.

Employees could reward colleagues £50, but the system wasn’t being used.

The answer was simple. There were a few steps employees had to go through to trigger the ‘thank you’, and nominations would need to be checked. It was these few steps that stopped busy employees from participating.

We simply removed the £50 reward and the few unnecessary steps and enabled a simple one click process to trigger a thank you message to colleagues. This ‘Simply Thank You’ approach went from 100 emails a month to nearly 3,000 ‘thank yous’ in the first week.

So, what does thank you mean to you?

In Portuguese obrigado translates as “much obliged” but actually means “I am in your debt.”

Similarly, in French, merci means ‘mercy’, or more literally “I am at your mercy.”

Maria Popova has written a wonderful short blog on the etymology of thank you.

My thanks go to my colleagues at The Team.

I asked them what ‘thank you’ means to them, and this is what they said:

  • “When receiving thanks: It means I’m seen and not ignored. It means I’m recognised (either as an individual or as part of a collective). It can mean I’m valued.”
  • “When giving thanks: It means I’m able to let someone else know their value. It gives me the chance to let others know I see and hear them. It facilitates a meaningful human connection.”
  • “To me, it means you are actually being appreciated, as well as being remunerated, for the time and effort you put in and for the stress you endure while performing the tasks our jobs entail.”
  • “Thank you is a symbol of recognition and a reminder of working within a team where people appreciate me, I appreciate them, and confirmation we have a positive, uplifting culture at The Team. Proud to be a part of it.”
  • “At the end of the day, it helps you to know you made a difference and that you’re appreciated.”
  • “To me it means that you’re being recognised and appreciated for something you’ve done and has made a positive change. No matter if big or small.”

These words sum up the importance of appreciation: it’s ability to drive pride; it’s ability to reassure people that they are making a difference; the way in which it can make the giver of thanks and the recipient feel good.


The Team have been in the business of creating brands and design experiences that drive positive change for 40 years. Specialising in reward and recognition, employee engagement, brand strategy and brand activation, we are a blend of consultants, strategists, and designers who connect people to brands to drive business success.

Using insight, behavioural science and our unique approach to brand, we work with you to create trust with the people that matter most.

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