So I'm Supposed To Tell Them "Thanks" For Doing Their Job?

So I'm Supposed To Tell Them
Issue 13 // 1st Quarter // 2016 Category:Leadership By: Dr. Paul White

Recently, I had the opportunity to provide training on how to communicate authentic appreciation to over 300 managers and supervisors of a group of long-term care facilities for senior citizens. In one of the sessions, we were dialoguing about the differences between authentic appreciation and “going through the motions” employee recognition.

One of the supervisors asked, with a quizzical look on her face, “So, I’m supposed to tell my staff ‘thanks’ for doing their job? That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m more than willing to call attention to and thank them for doing ‘above and beyond’, but I don’t see why we should have to thank them for doing what they are supposed to.”

Later, another leader (in a rather gentle, “politically correct” way) asked, “What about those employees who want to be praised all the time, for everything they do?  How are we supposed to handle those who were raised by receiving a ‘Participation Award’ just for showing up but not accomplishing anything?”

Interestingly, as the training sessions continued, a palpable tension grew between those who resent being told they should communicate appreciation for employees “doing their job” and those who believe that supervisors need to grow in their willingness (and ability) to communicate genuine appreciation to team members for doing their jobs well.

These concerns are not unique to this team of leaders.  In a presentation to college faculty and staff, one senior faculty member stated bluntly, “This younger generation needs to ‘grow up’ and realize they aren’t going to be praised and get an award for doing their job – that isn’t the real world.”


Both sides have valid points.  And, like in most areas of life, a balanced approach seems wise. However, similar to the political arena in the U.S., both sides of this discussion were becoming entrenched and attributing negative characteristics to the “other side”.  While there was no name calling in this session, leaders have used the following terms to describe those who hold the opposite position  (“softies”, “wimps”and “feel goods” versus “insensitive”, “uncaring” and “Grinches”).

Instruction from Daily Life at Home

In order to be able to pull out of the emotional quagmire that was developing, and to help proponents of each side be able to listen and be open to hearing a different perspective, I shared the following example from daily home life.

“Let’s say you are in a living arrangement – marriage, family, or with a roommate – where you agree to divide the responsibilities of daily life.  And you agree to take responsibility for making dinner in the evenings and cleaning up the dishes.  That’s your ‘job’ in the home.  You agree to it.  It is not forced on you.  And you dutifully carry out your responsibilities.

“How many of you think it would be nice (and appropriate) to hear ‘thanks’ occasionally for making the meal and doing the dishes?  Not every day, but every once in a while.” (Nearly everyone nodded in agreement.)

“But, what if, over a period of time, you never heard ‘thanks’ from the others?  Even though you agreed to accept the responsibility (and the other persons are doing their tasks as well), how do you think you may begin to feel?”

“Resentful,”  “taken for granted,” came from the group.

“But,” I continued, “on the other hand, it doesn’t really seem reasonable to expect to be thanked every day for every meal, agreed?  It would be nice but probably isn’t going to happen.”  

“You’ve got that right!” said one woman sarcastically about her husband. 

A Losing Argument “What Should Be” vs. “What Is”

Often, when issues and discussions are based in the values we as individuals hold, the discussion descends into an argument – either between two conflicting values of “what should be” (“They should be thankful they have a job!” vs. “But you don’t have to treat them like slaves!”), or between “what should be” and “what is”.

This latter discussion can sometimes be framed as idealists (those with high ideals that they believe should not be compromised) and realists (those who look at the practical reality of day-to-day life and attempt to live out their values in the context of “what is”.)  While this can become an oversimplification, the idealistic perspective and the reality-based perspective are both helpful, and needed.  That is, if the argument is framed as an “either-or” problem, rather than a “both-and” challenge, no one will win the argument.

The Reality “Yes. . .but with limits”

Whether or not employees (and supervisors and managers) should expect to be thanked for “doing their job” is actually a moot question.  The fact is: they do.  Both personal experience and research demonstrate this reality., in surveying those who were looking for work, found that the #1 characteristic job seekers desired in a workplace was to feel valued by their employer.  Recently, the Boston Consulting Group, in surveying over 200,000 employees worldwide found that employees reported the top reason they enjoyed their work was that they felt appreciated. 

And it is well-documented that when employees quit a job for another position, the primary driving force behind their decision is not money.  Rather, they leave because they don’t feel appreciated and due to interpersonal conflict with their direct supervisor.

As followers of Christ, the Biblical basis for communicating appreciation exists at a foundational level, including the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you want them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12) and the admonition to be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32). 

Additionally, we know that good things happen when employees feel valued: 

Tardiness and calling in “sick” declines.

Employees follow policies and procedures more frequently.

Staff turnover diminishes (which is the single greatest non-productive cost to a business.)

Irritability and conflict are less frequent.

Managers enjoy their work more.

So, the answer to the question, “You mean I’m supposed to tell them ‘thanks’ for doing their job?”, is – yes, you should (if communicated in a way important to them and viewed as genuine.) 

“...But with Limits” 

But the flip-side is also true.  Work is about “work” – about getting things done. That is what you were hired to do.  And a supervisor’s primary task is not to be giving continual praise and reinforcement to individual team members for completing their daily tasks (they do have other responsibilities, like planning, quality control, communicating with other departments, and reporting results to management.)

While there are individuals who seem to be a “black hole” for praise and encouragement – they never seem to get enough and are frequently asking (or hinting) for more.  But, in reality, just like you can be really thirsty and all you think about is getting a drink, until you’ve had some liquid to replenish you.  Then you don’t need any more (for a while, at least).  Similarly, when we communicate authentic appreciation in the ways that are meaningful to the recipient (note: it is not always verbal praise), then they are usually satisfied and don’t need to be praised constantly. Many managers never experience this, however, because: 

They are stingy with compliments and praise so their team members are always “thirsty”;  

The way they communicate appreciation doesn’t “connect” with the employee; or 

The employee doesn’t believe they genuinely mean it.

The Practical Implications?

Don’t get into the “either-or” mindset, where you argue with others about how much appreciation team members should want (or need).  Remember that it is good to be generous with kindness, and to be thankful for all things (I Thessalonians 5:18)  – including employees doing their daily tasks!

But also do not allow yourself to be put in a position of being “emotionally black-mailed”. Do not accept full responsibility for another person’s happiness or sense of self-worth.  You can’t make someone else feel good.

Do what you can to communicate appreciation to your colleagues.  Learn how they like to be shown appreciation (it is most likely not the same way you do.)  Practice.  And I challenge you to a personal experiment.  Observe what happens when you consistently thank your team members for doing their work.  I will bet a fair amount of money, you will begin to see positive results (if they believe you are genuine and you communicate in the ways important to them.)

Dr. Paul White

By: Dr. Paul White

Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, speaker, and consultant who makes work relationships work. Co-author of the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (with Dr. Gary Chapman), Dr. White provides practical advice in improving workplace relationships and successfully transferring family businesses across generations.

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