Thankful for Your Employees? Show It This Thanksgiving

Family, friends, and health would likely top many personal lists of gratitude given around the dinner table at Thanksgiving. For most people work is probably low down on the “count my blessings” list.  That wouldn’t be surprising since fewer than 3 out of 10 workers in the U.S. are “engaged” in the workplace. One out of 5 is actually actively disengaged according to Gallup.

The only association between the holiday and the workplace it seems is that it provides a day off.  For a fortunate few it might even mean a long weekend away from the office. For others Thanksgiving has become just another work day due to earlier starts to Black Friday sales.

Despite this disassociation between work and Thanksgiving, the origins of this holiday are rooted in work. At first, Thanksgiving was a day to celebrate the hard-earned bounty of the harvest. The very first Thanksgiving feast in America came about when the Pilgrims wanted to express their gratitude to the Wampanoag Native Americans who had helped them survive their first year in their new home. In a sense, the tradition of Thanksgiving began as a way of celebrating the workplace values of hard work and cooperation.

Since work plays such a vital part of many people’s lives, the American Management Association posed a question to readers of one of its publications. It asked them what made them most thankful at work.

First on the list was “the professional satisfaction it provides me.” The Pilgrims would be beaming with pride since the satisfaction of a job well done was an emotion shared several hundred years earlier.  Pride and fulfillment produce natural highs for employees. As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The joy people get from pride in their work is priceless. It’s a simple management principle mostly ignored but when embraced is the gift that just keeps giving.

It should come as no surprise that “my co-workers” came in second. Personal relationships play an important role in our happiness at work. For many workers, co-workers is family. Many of us spend more time at work and with co-workers than with our own families during a typical week. The workplace is where we form some of our closest and most enduring friendships. Friends at work help us deal with stress at work and provide a support network for problems at home.

Work friendships are beneficial from the organization’s perspective as well. Tom Rath in his book Vital Friends reveals that people who have a best friend in their workplace are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. As a result, these companies have more satisfied customers and tend to innovate and share more new ideas.

Based on years of research by Gallup, Vital Friends also reports that when asked if they would rather have a 10 percent pay raise or a close friend at work, respondents overwhelmingly chose the close friend. That’s a powerful testimonial to the priority that we place on friendship in the workplace.

“My boss” ranked third on the list of things that workers were thankful for. Almost as important as feeling good about the kind of work we do is feeling good about the person we do it for. Contrary to popular opinion that all that employees care about is money, it doesn’t take much to earn the thanks of the people who report to you—show them that you’re grateful for their efforts, and they’ll repay the gratitude.

Not unlike many other surveys, “my salary” ranked lowest on the list.  That’s challenging to management because salary is the easiest tool to use when companies are trying to increase their employee engagement and earn their gratitude.

As we think about what we’re thankful this Thanksgiving, we might want to consider something that many of us take for granted – be thankful for your employees.

Here’s a few very simple, inexpensive but very rewarding things you can do this Thanksgiving to show your gratitude to your employees.

Say Thank You, Of Course!

It’s so simple but so easily forgotten. Showing your appreciation can be as simple as just saying thank you. This is a great time of year to just greet each employee face-to-face and with a handshake. Whenever possible, greet them by name!  It goes a long way.

Hand written notes work well too. By the way, appreciation notes to your customers and vendors are a great idea too.)  Email is acceptable but a poor third choice.  But anything note of appreciate is better than nothing. But even if it has to be email, make sure you address each employee personally. Don’t send out a generic message. Be as specific as possible. Thank your employees for work on a particular project or extra effort. This is the easiest and most meaningful way to let your employees know you appreciate them and are thankful for their hard work.


What is everyone’s favorite part of Thanksgiving? The food!  Bring in some Thanksgiving-themed treats for your employees to enjoy. Plan a potluck event.  Allow your employees to come together and enjoy the holiday. Nothing says thank you quite like food – except the heartfelt personal thank you.

If you want to go the extra mile, gift cards and/or certificates for free turkeys at the local grocery store work too. And if you want to get the biggest bank for your time and buck, deliver the cards personally.

Flexible Holiday Work Hours!

For many employees, Thanksgiving means family. If possible be flexible with your employees. If you can afford to give them a day off or even just a few hours to prepare dinner or extra travel time to spend time with family, do it.

Show your employees how much you appreciate them this Thanksgiving and deliver a little “thank you.”


Ira S Wolfe