Cilla Snowball: why we need to say ‘thank you’ more in business

thank you note

We were discussing the problem of email overload at work the other day. Someone suggested we stop sending emails simply saying; “Thank you” in order to cut down on volume. I shuddered at the thought of that. In fact, it made me think that we need many more “thank yous” in business.

Thank. You. Two simple words that might seem a superfluous commodity in a busy world, but in my view, have a unique ability to improve relationships - business and personal - for both giver and recipient. Being appreciated is, after all, a basic human need with real value, both social and economic. As GK Chesterton said: "Thanks are the highest form of thought. Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder”.

Saying “thank you” was an enforced duty for me in my childhood. My mother was incredibly hot on it. Boxing Day always began with a box of notelets on the kitchen table, three kids and a list of “thank yous” we each had to write for Christmas gifts received. No joint letters, no short cuts, no quick phone calls were allowed. All the letters were then audited by my mother. There was no escape.

Looking back, she was right to enforce it. The psychology of gratitude is an absolute win/win for both giver and recipient. The simple act of appreciation makes people happier and willing to contribute more in future. Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviours.

In business gratitude prompts new relationships, orients people to existing relationships and promotes the maintenance of and investment in these relationships – a prerequisite of any successful business.

Within the workplace it also leads to greater productivity. Feeling valued and supported by one's manager is the key determinant of trust and job satisfaction. Even a small amount of gratitude can have a profound impact on productivity. In one study (Grant and Gino 2010) when a single manager visited a call-centre to thank employees for their hard work, the number of calls those employees made over the next week spiked by more than 50%.

While in our own world, client “thank yous” are incredibly valuable for agencies, as the wise and wonderful Jeremy Bullmore pointed out many years ago; “One hand- written letter saying thank you to your account executive or creative director could bring you enough enthusiasm and commitment to keep a flow of outstanding work for at least another year."

“Thank you” is an essential motivator for ad agencies. We thrive on it.

And for the giver too, appreciating the contributions of others brings happiness. Cicero’s observation that "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others" has been borne out by numerous more contemporary studies that reveal gratitude leads to peace of mind, happiness, physical health and deeper, more satisfying relationships.

“Thank you” has profound implications within business. Some years ago, when we changed the payment letters for TV Licensing to start with “thank you” and we noticed a marked and positive shift in customer perception. The same happened with Comic Relief fund-raising letters. In the lead up to Christmas, National Lottery funding recipients large and small said “Thank you” to National Lottery players in a big way. 425 heritage attractions threw open their doors for free to anyone with a National Lottery ticket. National museums, National Trust venues and even local heritage attractions like Stonehenge took part. #ThanksToYou was used more than 10,000 times, trending twice on Twitter during its four-week run and generating lots of coverage, traffic and goodwill.

Other businesses have also realised the power of a simple thank you - drivers rewarded for good driving behaviour, shopping loyalty rewarded by discounts, even a free coffee in store.

So “thank you” is anything but superfluous. It’s been shown to improve lives, relationships, work and businesses. Gratitude pays.

Thank you for taking the time read this.

Cilla Snowball DBE, is group chairman and group chief executive of AMV BBDO and a regular contributor to The Drum.

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