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Thank-you notes can provide rich rewards

Q. I am a senior manager at a small but rapidly growing human services firm with 3 offices in Boston. I manage 15 professional level staff who provide the services we market.

Each year the co-owners of my firm throw one large and a couple of smaller parties and gatherings with food, drinks, etc to which all staff and spouses/partners are invited. And each year I am shocked that almost none of the professional staff formally thank their boss for these parties. This lapse of professional courtesy is noticed by the firm principle, and she finds it disappointing and hurtful. Further, negative feelings accrue over time toward members of the professional staff who are otherwise good employees.

It is my sense that this lapse in politeness is causing some to been seen in a negative light. My question is, as their direct manager can I intervene and give some instruction about professional courtesy at regular staff meeting or in a memo or is this beyond my role?

E. F., Boston, MA

A. As their manager, not only do you hold your staff accountable for their actions, but their actions also reflect directly on you, and, right now, they're not painting a good picture.

Consequently, it’s imperative that you remedy the situation. By far the best way to handle the issue is in person, either at a regular staff meeting, or, perhaps even better, at a specially called meeting, which shows how important you think this is. You can teach them yourself or bring in an expert to help them learn not only the craft of writing a thank-you note, but also the underlying reasons why they should be doing it and how it will benefit them.

In the years I have been teaching business etiquette, I have found it’s important to provide the “why” if I am going to change people’s behavior. In your case the “why” is their image in the eyes of the people who hold sway over promotions and purse strings.

It’s simple really. Ask your professionals: “Would you rather have someone appreciate you or think poorly of you?” Then add that when that person is the firm principle, the answer is twice as easy to figure out. Right now their image is a negative one.

The beauty of thank-you notes is that the fix is really easy. They take no more than five minutes out of a person’s day, and, yet, thank-you notes pay such rich rewards. The note itself can be short, three to five sentences work very nicely: “Dear Janice, Marge and I enjoyed the office holiday party last night. The evening was a great opportunity to get to know our colleagues and their spouses personally. I didn’t know Jim is such an avid rock climber, something I enjoy as well. Thank you for hosting such a fun event. Best, Peter”

Schedule the training session ASAP.

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