'Thank You' Goes a Long Way at Work


etiquetteEach November, the idea of giving thanks takes center stage in many people's minds. But in the business world, knowing how -- and when -- to give thanks is always valuable, regardless of the season. Properly thanking a colleague, mentor, reference or interviewer shows that you have a certain amount of class and professionalism.

If you've made a thanks-giving faux pas in your career, don't worry. It's not always easy to figure out when to send flowers versus delivering a simple thank-you letter. To help clear up the confusion, Jodi R.R. Smith, president and founder of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm, offers the following guidelines:

1. When the spoken word will do.

In general, Smith thinks that most gestures from colleagues at work deserve more than a spoken thank you. "A spoken thank-you is almost a reflex action and is usually not enough," she says. Sure, you should thank someone for opening the door for you and do not need to whip out your pen and stationery, but when a co-worker goes out of his or her way to help you, it's best to put it in writing.

2. Handwritten, please.

Smith thinks that nearly every kind action deserves a handwritten thank-you. "People should probably be writing between five to eight thank-you notes per week," she says. "If you're not, you're missing opportunities." She thinks of thank-you notes as "low-cost, high-impact business tools," that, if strategically used, can help further your career. Smith says that thank-you notes do not need to be long -- two, three or four lines is enough to get your gratitude across. But, don't think you can use your computer to help you with this task. Smith says that all thank-you notes should be written by hand on nice, professional stationery.

3. What about e-mail?

Smith says that e-mail thank-you notes are almost always a no-no. "E-mail thank-you notes say I cared enough to do the very least." Yes, if a colleague drops by your desk and leaves you her already-read magazine, you can certainly thank him or her with an e-mail. But for any gesture grander than that, you need to at least write a note.

4. Going the extra mile.

According to Smith, all thank-you gestures need to mirror the kind action. That means if a colleague just stops by to help you out with a project one evening on her way out the door, you can thank her by writing a nice note and buying her a cup of coffee one morning. But, she says, if a co-worker gives you a lead for a new million-dollar client, one cup of coffee will not cut it. In that case, spread the wealth. Food gifts -- particularly gourmet chocolates and other sweets -- are a safe and effective way to go.

5. Need some more ideas?

If you want to wow someone with your thank-yous, you have to do your homework. "You need to take the time to be a gift detective and figure out something they would really like," she says. If you do not want to go the food route, she suggests business-related gifts, such as nice pens, desk accessories, a new portfolio, or something else the individual can use at work. And while gift certificates can be nice to receive, Smith cautions against using them for thank-yous. "A gift certificate puts a dollar amount on your thank-you."

The final point to remember is that what's most important is the actual "thanking." Everyone, no matter how high up on the food chain, appreciates a little positive recognition every once in a while. So be a co-worker that your colleagues remember fondly and give thanks when thanks are due. Hopefully, all the thanks-giving will come around to you, too!

Next: Workplace Etiquette Essentials >>

Copyright 2005 CareerBuilder.com.

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