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Todd Patkin


Five Ways to Say Thanks to Your Employees

Worth their weight, but none of them cost a dime

Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 15:19

In a perfect world, we’d all be looking forward to the holiday season without anxiety. Unfortunately, for most employees, that isn’t even close to being the case. Times have been tough, and for several years, workers have been stretched thin as they try to do more with less. As an employer, you might want to reward your people for their hard work with a raise or holiday bonus—if only you had the funds. Although you can’t distribute money you don’t have, you can make your employees feel happier and more appreciated.

People will never admit it, but money is not the thing they desire most from their work. Instead, showing appreciation, respect, and, yes, even love are the three most important ways to make your people feel great about their work. Starting this Thanksgiving, if you really begin to live out the holiday’s spirit, you’ll also find that happy, engaged employees are the single best way to improve your company’s bottom line.

I speak from experience here. For nearly two decades, I was instrumental in leading my family’s business, Autopart International, until it was bought in 2005. During that time, I made it my No. 1 priority to always put my employees and their happiness first.

As a leader, I quickly found that if my team was content and their work environment was a positive one, they would be more engaged and motivated, and they would also treat our customers better. It was more rewarding for me to see that my employees were happy than it was to know we were making money.

By contrast, if your employees are perpetually stressed, they’ll be less motivated and more disengaged. They’ll do only what they must to avoid chastisement. You’ll lose money in the long term. Also, when the economy turns around, they’ll be more likely to look for a new job elsewhere.

It’s more important now than ever before to show your employees love and appreciation because of the economic downturn, so you probably won’t have the money to give big raises and holiday bonuses that you once did.

In my book, Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011), the one thing I emphasize to leaders is that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making your organization as happy a place to work as possible. Here are five strategies you can use to say, “Thanks for a job well done!” to any employee, any time, without spending a cent.

Send “love” notes. Sending a thank-you note is standard practice when you receive a gift. And isn’t working hard your employees gift to you? When you notice that an individual has done an excellent job or achieved an important goal, send a specific handwritten—not typed—note conveying your most sincere appreciation and admiration. This will take only one sheet of paper and 5 minutes out of your day, but it’ll make a lasting impression on your employee.

When you’re busy and often overwhelmed, it’s easy to overlook saying the words, ‘Thank you,’ much less writing them. Remember, though, that positive reinforcement and sincere gratitude will increase the respect your team has for you and will improve their opinion of your entire organization. Also, it will encourage them to say thank you more often to their own subordinates within your company.

Distribute inspiration. Our society tends to think of work as a place of drudgery, obligation, and boredom, as exemplified in the now-iconic movie Office Space. People certainly don’t think of receiving inspiration and rejuvenation between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. But buoying your team’s spirits should be one of your daily goals. If you help employees to see the world as a sunnier place and improve their attitudes and ways of thinking about their lives, their professional and personal productivity will increase, too.

So if you run across a quotation or story that inspires you, don’t keep it to yourself—pass it along to an employee, and if appropriate, also mention that the quote or anecdote reminded you of him and his great attitude. Alternatively, you might consider sending out a quote or lesson of the day. Yes, the idea might sound hokey at first, but I firmly believe that most people vastly underestimate the power of feeding their minds with inspirational and educational material.

Tell success stories. Even if they brush off praise or downplay their achievements, everybody loves to be recognized and complimented. When someone in your organization has done something great, tell her that you noticed her outstanding work, and tell the rest of the team, too. When I was at Autopart International and I saw that one of my people did something noteworthy, I made sure that everyone else knew about it by sending the story about her accomplishment around in an e-mail to the entire chain. I could literally see the glow on the highlighted employee’s face for weeks, and I also noticed that many of the other team members now worked even harder to earn a write-up themselves. Remember to always praise in public as loudly as possible—and criticize only in private.

Identify stars. This takes telling success stories to the next level. Yes, recognize achievements whenever you see them, but also make celebrating your stars a regular event. Sure, some team members will roll their eyes at “Employee of the Week/Month” programs, but you can rest assured that no one is going to turn down this honor.

Instead of singling out just one person, you might consider recognizing multiple individuals every month. “For example, I always wrote about several store managers in our Managers of the Month newsletter. Later, I included assistant managers, store supervisors, store salespeople, and our drivers in the newsletter. My profiles would laud both the professional achievements and personal qualities of these outstanding people. The newsletters themselves were often thirty pages in length when finished. Many within the team loved to read these personalized recognitions each month, and the newsletters motivated lots of employees to work even harder to earn a spot on the pages themselves.

Make it a family affair. Whenever possible, engage your employees’ families when praising them. Having a leader validate all the hours each team member spends at work will be remembered far longer than a bonus. Plus, when spouses and kids know what Mom or Dad does at work and are “on board” with it, your employees’ performance will be buoyed by support from the ones they love the most.

For example, if an employee did something really tremendous, I would call his home, generally trying to get the answering machine and not a person. Then I’d leave a voicemail like this one:

“This is Todd Patkin from Autopart International, where your husband and dad work. I just want to tell you that he is the most incredible, wonderful, amazing person in the whole world. He just broke our Nashua, New Hampshire, store’s all-time sales record. Guys, that is incredible! So, please, kids, do me a favor. When your dad comes home tonight, everyone run up and give him a huge hug and tell him how proud you are of him and how great he is. Thanks, guys.”

“Years later, many employees whose families received these phone calls told me that although they didn’t remember how much their bonus checks were for that year, that extra-special homecoming was still clearly etched in their memories.”

Instead of just seeing Thanksgiving as an opportunity to eat a turkey dinner, challenge yourself this year to think about just how much your employees mean to you, and how you can convey that to them. Trust me: Showing people love, appreciation, and respect trump money just about every time when it comes to building long-term motivation and boosting employee morale and loyalty. When you take the time to make your employees feel valued, they’ll know that you care about them on a more personal level, and they’ll be much happier at work. In the end, when you’ve achieved a really positive atmosphere at work and the improved bottom line that will surely come from it, you’ll feel pretty amazing, too.


About The Author

Todd Patkin

Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next 18 years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy.


Five Ways to Say Thanks

Great Article Todd. I met your brother Rodger once. I used to work at Beck/Arnley Worldparts in Nashville and am very familiar with Autoparts International.

I used to send a gift certificate to the movie theatre or a restaurant with personal thank you notes when someone had a great accomplishment. Worked wonders so I can relate to everything you wrote.