The Best Way to Say Thank You? Say it

“We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it,” writes Danusha Laméris in her poem “Small Kindnesses.”

Since most people feel that way, what is the best way to thank employees or coworkers?

According to a new report released by the accounting firm Deloitte entitled The Practical Magic of “Thank You,” the answer is, stunningly, simply to say thank-you.

The report opens with a quote from the British novelist Gladys Bronwyn Stern: “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”

On the other hand, gratitude expressed with a lot of fanfare doesn’t appeal to many people either. For day-to-day accomplishments, 54 percent of the 16,000 professionals interviewed said that they preferred a “verbal ‘thank-you’”; 31 percent preferred a “written ‘thank-you,’” while only 7 percent preferred a “celebration” and 2 percent preferred a gift.

The upshot: you can probably spare yourself the expense of a none-too-fresh cake from the supermarket bakery.

Only 18 percent of respondents said they wanted recognition that was “public and broad.” The report indicates that this has to do with how comfortable an individual is with a “public persona.”

“Stop and think about it for a moment,” the report advises. “Simply saying ‘thank you’ for their everyday efforts could satisfy three quarters of the people you work with!”

Recognition by superiors is generally preferred: 69 percent said they would rather be acknowledged by either a direct supervisor or by leadership above a direct supervisor, as opposed to recognition by colleagues.

What about gratitude for more significant accomplishments? Money isn’t necessarily the primary object. Almost half of the professionals surveyed preferred to be rewarded with “a new growth opportunity” (47 percent), versus 23 percent, who would prefer a salary increase; 21 percent, who would like a “high performance rating”; and 10 percent, who would like a bonus.

Oh, and what does accomplishment actually mean? Since you probably live in the results-driven culture of the United States, you won’t be surprised to learn that “success” is the most important criterion for 40 percent of respondents, whereas “knowledge or expertise” is the preference for 24 percent; “effort” is the choice for 20 percent; and “living core values” is preferred by 16 percent.

Preferences in gratitude partly have to do with the type of person you are. Following in a tradition that runs from the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus to popular sun-sign astrology, the Deloitte report divides employees into four types: Pioneers, who “value imagination” and are “outgoing, spontaneous, and adaptable; Drivers, who “value challenge” and are “direct in their approach”; Guardians, who “value stability” and “bring order and rigor”; and Integrators, who “value connection and draw teams together.”

Pioneers are best thanked with “a chance to try something new.” Drivers like to be recognized for their expertise, whereas effort should be underscored for Guardians and Integrators. Nevertheless, the report emphasizes that “all Guardians are not exactly the same, nor are all Pioneers, Drivers, or Integrators.”

One of the report’s most important conclusions is to remind people that “many of the people you work with are different from you, and what will make them feel appreciated isn’t necessarily the same as what makes you feel appreciated.”

This conclusion, of course, reflects the number-one rule of management: never forget that you are dealing with human beings.

Richard Smoley is Editor with Blue Book Services Inc.