April 3rd 2023
By: Vicki-Anne Rodrigue

The essential role of gratitude for managers’ well-being

I am writing this blog article on my birthday and as I read through the warm birthday greetings that are flooding through, I am reminded to say thank you to all those who remembered me on my special day. Yet, saying a simple ‘thank you’, while totally acceptable, would fall short of the important life lesson that my mother taught me: it is not as much about saying thank you as it is about identifying why we say thank you and how that person has touched our lives and contributed to our personal growth.

This ability to recognize the positive influences of others in our lives, including our friends, family members and co-workers, leads me to think about the people who are often overlooked – our team leaders, managers, and directors.

Recognize the Complexity of Managerial Responsibilities

When someone in an organization is identified for a leadership role, the expectation for their performance increases significantly. Not only are they often called upon to supervise employees and conduct performance management assessments, but they are also often called upon to address employee dissatisfaction, low morale and/or issues with motivation, and interpersonal conflicts among their team members. Added to this is the stress of often being the “face” of the organization they represent, setting the strategic direction of the organization, managing and controlling resources – material, human and financial – to achieve organizational priorities and objectives, disseminating information to their partners, collaborators, and stakeholders, identifying growth opportunities for their organization, monitoring the progress of their business and bottom line, and evaluating whether organizational structures are effective and efficient.

When we take a step back and do an inventory of everything a person in a leadership position does, it puts things in perspective for us, because we realize that their role is much larger than “just supervising employees”. Not only that, but when our leaders must make difficult decisions – addressing underperformance, having to write a letter of expectation or disciplining an employee, inheriting a team that went through a collective trauma such as workplace harassment, intimidation, or discrimination, having to lay-off or terminate an employee, having to announce budget cuts, etc. – they may be confronted to having to mandatorily compartmentalize and separate the human side from the business side. That can be difficult, especially if the individual in a leadership position is more sensitive or knows about an employee’s personal struggles that could be having an impact on their overall performance in the workplace.

5 Languages of Appreciation for your Managers

This is why saying ‘thank you’ to those in a leadership position is crucial. Even if the mark of recognition follows a difficult conversation like one targeting underperformance, saying thank you not only forces us to remain humble and engage in self-reflection to determine if there is an element of truth to what is being brought to our attention, but it also helps to validate our leaders in their role and responsibilities and acknowledge that we are not insensitive to the challenges of their position.

There are several ways to thank those in a leadership role. In their bestselling book The 5 Languages of Appreciation at Work, co-authors Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White give practical steps to make any workplace environment more encouraging and productive. The book, which is based on Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book The 5 Love Languages, identifies five ways to show a colleague or a manager appreciation:

1. Words of Affirmation

Whether written or verbal, recognizing your leader’s hard work and dedication can go a long way in signaling that you are aware of the time spent investing in a specific task, even if that task is your performance assessment agreement. It is always best to be specific in your words of affirmation since a generic “good job” will not be as compelling or effective as taking the time to compliment a specific skill set, action, or initiative. Validating a difficult situation for your manager can also be very effective (e.g., “I know it was a difficult conversation for you and I to have because it required you to address some issues in my performance. Although it was difficult for me to accept, I want you to know that I recognize that it was also difficult for you”).

2. Quality Time

This simply means providing your undivided attention to your manager and actively listening to what they are saying, including affirming their feelings. This conveys interest and support and can be done virtually, but also in person by sharing a meal or a coffee or going on walking breaks during the day or suggesting some off-site team-building activities.

3. Acts of Service

If you note that your manager’s workload is heavier than usual and they seem stressed, offer to help with some elements that are not necessarily related to decision-making responsibilities. Offer to help them with some administrative duties, such as making copies, sending follow-up emails, scheduling a meeting with colleagues or the CEO. Try avoiding a task that might give you the limelight. Whatever you do, do with a cheerful heart.

4. Gifts

Another way to show your appreciation is through gift-giving. Try making an extra effort to note your manager’s interests or preferences in your day-to-day conversations with them and attempt at personalizing the gift. An inexpensive yet thoughtful token of appreciation can be in the form of a favorite treat. It shows you have been paying attention. Your manager doesn’t like coffee but is a fan of chocolate milk? Buy them a chocolate milk the next time you head out to Starbucks for your caramel macchiato.

5. Physical Touch

This way of saying thank you needs to be carefully considered, especially in the workplace. In fact, physical touch should not be the primary way you show appreciation in the workplace, however a handshake, a high-five, a fist bump, or a pat on the back does not have to be forbidden, either. Appropriate physical touch in the office also depends on HR guidelines and the recipient’s own feelings. Do not touch anyone who does not want to be touched — no exceptions.

Authentic appreciation is individual. While one manager may welcome an invitation to a hockey game, another might favor a simple — but specific — word or note of thanks. Regardless of the way you choose to give thanks, make sure you observe and listen carefully to your manager’s favorite language of appreciation and try thanking them the way they want to be thanked or recognized. But above all, do so cheerfully and genuinely. Saying thank you should never be a chore but always a gift.

Vicki-Anne Rodrigue, M.Ed., CCC

Senior Consultant, Leader and Organizational Development at EPSI