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Opportunity or obligation?

Posted by Peter Post  December 30, 2010 07:00 AM

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Q. Hi. I love this column and often cut out the questions and answers and bring them into work. I particularly like the recent one on bullying. It is a relevant topic and one that is not addressed very appropriately or often in the workplace.

I am a little confused by the answer about thank you notes after a holiday office party. I thought company parties are a way for the employer to say "thanks" and therefore not something the employee should have to send a thank you for attending. If the parties are hosted and paid for by a boss or colleague out of their own pocket, then a thank you is expected. How are the attendees to know? It is always OK to send a thank you if you are not sure and to err on the side of graciousness?

I do think these non-thankers believe the way I do, though and have no idea they should be sending a thank you. Perhaps they all get bonuses and other thank you incentives from their employer. If so, they are lucky to be employed and should show their gratitude with a simple thank you note.


J. T., Salisbury, MA

A. Thank you for your kind comments particularly about bullying in the workplace, which is a serious issue and needs to be addressed by individuals and companies as well as by our legislatures. It is a scourge that should not be tolerated and perpetrators should face consequences for their despicable behavior.

As for the thank-you note issue: Is the holiday party an obligation on the part of the company, something owed to employees like a paycheck, or is it a way of saying thanks and showing appreciation? Most of us would say that it is a gesture of appreciation. The kind, considerate action on the receiver’s part is to acknowledge that statement of appreciation by saying thank you in return. In fact, the best response is to express your thanks twice: Once when you leave the party and again with a short note in the next day or two.

A thank you really shouldn’t be an “I have to,” it should be an “I want to.” Change your mind set from one of thinking of writing a note as an obligation to thinking of the note as an opportunity to say, “I am the kind of person who knows how to show my appreciation for what others do for me.” In last week’s scenario, it was interesting that the manager pointed out that support staff wrote thank-you notes, but that his more upper level reports did not, subtly implying that the company “owed” them the party or dinner. Not writing the thank-you note and implying they’re owed is having a decidedly down-side effect. Conversely, if the employees send a thank you note, there is only an up-side. Sending a thank-you note is an opportunity. Do it.

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