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The History of Thank You Notes

The mediums we’ve used to express our thanks have shifted over the years. One of the ways we’ve shown our gratitude over time is by writing thank you notes.


How did thank you notes originate?

The Chinese and Egyptian cultures were the first to start writing what closely resembled thank you notes. They would write friendship and good luck notes & exchange them with one another on papyrus paper. In later times (around 1400), the Europeans exchanged social notes (aka greeting cards) by hand delivering them to their friends and family. Long after the Europeans started using thank you notes, Pouis Prang, a German immigrant, brought greeting cards and thank you notes to America in 1856.

Thank you notes have come a long way. What made thank you notes stand the test of time and when we receive one what makes us treasure it for years to come? The answer to these questions is simple. When you write a thank you note, it must be meaningful and sincere. When you receive recognition that is personal, it means that much more to you. So when you give a thank you note, be sure it comes from the heart, especially in the workplace.


Quote source: Fashion industries’ Christiano Magni

Thank You Notes in the Workplace

Studies have shown that an employee is much happier when they feel valued. According to Oxford Economics, only 33% of American employees are very satisfied with their jobs.  Due to rising costs of turnover, businesses invest a lot of money into employee recognition. It’s interesting to think about the fact that the more you make your team feel valued, the greater the chance they will stay with you for the long haul. Having an effective employee recognition program is linked to your profit and increases your employee retention.

Giving a thank you note is just one form of employee recognition.  Keep in mind there are several other tools you can use to create a culture of gratitude in the workplace.

We talked with HR Talent Management Expert, Marc Effron, to find out more about the impact that gratitude has on workplace culture.

The Power of Thanks in the Workplace

  1. What do you think are the best ways to foster a culture of gratitude?

Leaders need to model this culture by actively thanking employees for their efforts and expressing gratitude for the opportunities they’ve been given in life. They need to reinforce that showing appreciation is not the same as rewarding results, but that all effort is appreciated.

  1. How have you seen the digital age impact employee engagement?

I’m not sure that it’s affected engagement since that’s driven by your manager and your perceived opportunities to develop.  But it’s made it easier to both give recognition through something as easy as a “like” button.

      3. Can you give an example of how you’ve seen a culture of gratitude help when it comes to talent management?

When I led Talent Management at Avon Products many years ago, the entire organization was focused on ensuring that the 6 million sales representatives were the sole focus of our attention.  There was immense gratitude that these ladies were selling our products and so our talent management efforts focused on ensuring we always had the right team in place to serve them.

As you can see, thank you notes are not a lost art but an ever-evolving expression that will be continually used in the workplace and beyond.

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