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The Most Underutilized Tool in Making People Happier at Work



Every language has a word for “thanks.” It’s
one of the few concepts that works in a hut
in Bali, a London skyscraper or a mini-mart
in Peoria.
In the U.S. (in November) and Canada (in
October), we have actual paid-time-off days
of “thanks.” And while many of us spend
these Thanksgiving days expressing
gratitude for our families, friends, health or
prosperity, what about thanking the people
who make your business possible: Your
By now there’s enough statistical evidence
that recognition done right plays a critical
role in engaging employees and creating
high-performance cultures. Our research
shows it also creates enhanced feelings of
trust and communication in employees. But
it’s hard to benefit from the impact of
gratitude if you don’t do it.
No one knows this better than Kirt Walker,
president and chief operating officer of
Nationwide Financial in Columbus, Ohio. I
was working with Kirt and his amazing
leadership team at a meeting last week
when he issued this challenge: “It’s
Thanksgiving. Lets make sure we thank our
He then gave them a great way to
accomplish the task: He asked them to
consider writing a handwritten note to every
direct report, expressing specifically what
that employee has done to help the
organization thrive. And he said it would be
great to do it before Thanksgiving Day.
Kirt promised he was going to do it himself.
I love it when leaders lead by example.
As Kirt knows, great service will only happen
if we keep our employees engaged and
focused. And a handwritten note costs
almost nothing, but can be a very personal,
very powerful way to convey gratitude. It is
a warm conversation that is all about you, it
doesn’t beep at you, distract you, or pull
you away to do something else.
Letters and notes I’ve received have found
their way into my journals and onto the
walls around my desk. They are constant
reminders of the people I work with who
have become more than associates, they are
now my friends. Probably my favorite note
ever came from a colleague—Mike Goodson
—who knew I was struggling. After telling
me specifically how he thought I added
value to the world, he summed up with a
few lines I’ll never forget: “Chester, you
aren’t just great. In the pantheon of
greatness you are the greatest. You, my
friend, are Spartacus.” I laughed, admittedly
choked up a little, and his handwritten note
is still hanging prominently on my wall years
Today, I send a lot of notes, not only to
work associates but to family and friends
too. Every Sunday I write a note to each of
my two boys, Brinden and Garrett, who are
away from home. I tell them how much I
love and appreciate them, and I let them
know they are never far from my thoughts.
Once in a while I do get a letter back
(because I gave them stationery for
Christmas last year, and stamps!). One of
my favorite notes has been from 21-year-
old Brinden who told me when he gets my
letters he doesn’t always open them right
away, but often saves them for a day when
things have been tough in his
incomprehensible (to me) chemical
engineering classes. As he said, “I know that
after I read a letter from my dad, I will feel
better about myself.” I love that kid! Continue reading on LinkedIn

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