Saying "thank you" to employees is not just polite, it is critical for keeping them engaged.

We've all watched leaders give talks when they use the "I" word over and over again. It never ceases to amaze me. I mean, how can these leaders honestly believe that they alone are responsible for the great news about the budget or the new initiatives or the greater morale of employees or higher customer satisfaction results? Really, how hard is it to say "we" were all part of the great accomplishments this quarter?

Saying "thank you" to employees is not just polite, it is critical for keeping them engaged. Acknowledging their efforts can serve to motivate them and inspire them to want to keep working at your company. In fact, many say that a personal "thank you" means more than other things you might do for them.

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It's not just the front-line troops. I've talked to folks at all types of private and public sector companies, from part-time employees to senior executives. They all want to be acknowledged for their efforts. After all, given the 24/7 culture prevalent in the United States, people are working longer hours, over weekends, and throwing their lives out of balance.

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Thanking them is the least we can do as employers. Maybe you don't think you are very good at showing your gratitude. Maybe it's not that important to you. But, trust me - it is important to those around you.

So, here are a few tips for how to thank employees:

Look them in the eye when thanking them. If you are not good at this, then practice. It is important.

Make it genuine and heartfelt. Tell them what they did that you are thanking them for. Be specific. For example: "I appreciate the fact that you handled that difficult customer in such a tactful way when you got him some water, and spent 20 minutes listening to him. You could have just thrown him out of your office after his first 10 minutes of ranting."

Send a personal, handwritten note. It is amazing how long people keep these types of notes. They post them in their offices and they show them to their families and coworkers. In fact, if you go into someone's office and see the notes they have posted, you can learn a lot about what they value.

Take note of their sacrifice. Acknowledge those times when they worked overtime without pay, they came in on a Saturday, they gave up some family time, etc.

Connect the dots. Let them know how the good work that they are doing really makes a difference in the company, and has an impact on things that matter, such as the company's vision.

Use each and every day to find someone in your office you can thank. Don't overlook the cleaning person or the executive in the office around the corner. Everyone wants to feel valued.

Thank people in front of their bosses or send an email to their boss highlighting what they did that you valued. There are many different phrases you can use when thanking others, depending on whether they did exceptional service or met expectations. In either case, it is still valuable to thank them, but what you say might vary.

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The most common expressions for general thanks are:

"Thank you."
"We really appreciate your help with ..."
"Thanks a million for..."
"I'm so grateful for..."
"We appreciate it."
"Without you, we wouldn't have been able to ... Thank you."
"This is so great, I think others could benefit from learning about it. Can we share your work at our next meeting?"
"You are such a team player."
"You are so creative. All of us always love getting your perspective on things."
"You consistently bring 100 percent, and we truly appreciate that."
"We are so lucky to have you as part of our team."


A "thank you" should also be used with clients and customers, as well as managers above you. Even the boss appreciates a genuine "thank you."

Lockheed Martin chief executive Marillyn Hewson talks about how she uses each opportunity to visit employees at their work sites to refer to them by name, smile, shake their hands and thank them sincerely and genuinely. She believes it is an incredibly powerful way to let folks know how much you appreciate their hard work. Further, she notes that thanking them will help build trust with them, which is critical for leaders today.

As the job market improves, it is too easy for your top talent to be poached by outsiders. One way to hold onto them is to make sure they know you are grateful for all they are doing. It's one of the easiest things you can do that has one of the longest and biggest impacts.

Don't wait until tomorrow. Say "thank you" to someone at work today. You'll be glad you did.