Three Reasons You Should Rethink the Hand-Written Thank You Note

© Ever -
© Ever -

People know I’m in the “thank you” business. It’s my job (and my pleasure) to help organizations get better at expressing appreciation for the efforts of their employees.

Because people know my line of work, I’m often asked about my opinion on the handwritten thank-you note.

I’m of two opinions. In personal life, it’s appropriate and quite thoughtful to send a handwritten, detailed thank you note. In the world of business however, handwritten thank you notes present several challenges.

1) It doesn’t scale. A CEO may believe strongly in the power of the handwritten thank you note. And there is no denying the impact receiving such a note has for the employee. Yet as a business grows, the CEO cannot write enough thank you notes to derive the benefit he or she is seeking. And no matter how firmly the CEO tries to institute the practice among managers, some simply will not write the notes and others will try but fail.

Strategic recognition using a technology-based solution, on the other hand, makes it possible for the CEO to set desired parameters (such as demonstration of the company values as the reason for recognition) and then encourage all employees – managers and peers – to recognize those desired behaviors and achievements in their colleagues. This is far easier to scale.

2) It isn’t trackable or reportable. The handwritten note also does not allow for tracking of the giving and receiving of appreciation across the organization on a broader scale. When an employee is recognized for demonstrating the value of “innovation” for example, that can be tracked. If all recognition is tracked, management can gain – for the first time – deep insight into the understanding of the values across the organization and intervene when necessary.

My colleague Ben Miele explained this quite well last week when discussing the revelation at a client that R&D employees were being frequently recognized for “achieving results” but rarely recognized for “risk-taking” – precisely the opposite of desired behaviors in that department!

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3) It isn’t visible and therefore shareable. Perhaps the greatest benefit of an online strategic recognition solution is the option to share the recognition via secure Social Recognition across the organization’s network. This allows other employees to see and view the recognition, adding their additional “congratulations” and expressions of appreciation. This ability endlessly amplifies recognition.

Many organizations also have structures in place to notify managers of recognition given or for approvals at higher levels. Employees like this feature as they know their managers – possibly all the way to the CEO – see the recognition they have received.

What’s your take on the thank you note? When was the last time you received an expression of thanks – either in your personal life or at work?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


5 Comments on “Three Reasons You Should Rethink the Hand-Written Thank You Note

  1. I believe there is power in both a hand witten thank you note and leveraging technology-based solutions, its finding the right balance.  There is power in a hand written thank you note, its genuine and shows that you took the time to recognize the great work a team member is doing, In my role as a manager I leverage both formats. 

    One example where a thank-You Note Prompts Unexpected Foundation Gift –

  2. I’m still a big fan of hand-written notes. They tell the recipient that someone thought enough of them to take time out of a busy schedule to appreciate them. I give hand-written notes to the people who present at my conferences because an email to me just doesn’t cut it. I always get at least one comment on the thoughtfulness of the gesture.

    Not everything needs to be measured, and I think showing appreciation is one of those things 🙂

  3. Wow, I actually think there is still a place for handwritten notes, as performance appraisals and yearly evaluations are documentation of employees’ successes. Sometimes a simple handwritten “Thank You” from the CEO, a manager, a co-worker – is something that makes that employee feel recognized, and that recognition doesnt always need to be an online trackable public wow look how awesome Suzy is. Simple “Thank You’s” can make Suzy feel appreciated on their own – not every piece of praise needs to be documented to be effective.

  4. Great comments and I welcome everyone’s energy around this topic of handwritten thank you notes in the workplace. I wish thank you notes were more common in today’s world. The power of “thank you” is immeasurable, if only more would engage. Look at the energy generated in this conversation. What if I had simply written this idea to John Hollon (our TLNT editor) and mailed it to him via post? All of the energy of the shared conversation would be lost.

    No, not all messages of appreciation belong in the public forum. But today, too much recognition happens in secret. Let’s share the praise and generate the energy!


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