Tim Mullaney

Have you thanked anyone at work today? If you have, you’ve done something very powerful, according to a recent study.

I have to admit, when I heard about a study showing that people who are thanked feel better than people who aren’t thanked for doing a task, I thought: duh.

It amazes me how many studies seem to just prove the obvious. (High heels make your feet hurt!) True, this study went a little further. Participants gave feedback on a fictitious student’s cover letter. Some were thanked for doing this, some were not. The researchers found that participants who were thanked were much more likely than the other group to provide help to another student. In fact, 66% of the thanked group said they’d help another student, compared to 32% of the other group.

Still, I was dismissive. People who receive thanks are more likely to help out again in the future? Not exactly a “stop the presses” discovery.

And yet, as I drove to my parents’ house for the holiday weekend, as I enjoyed delicious food and caught up on Mad Men before the upcoming season premiere, my mind kept wandering back to this seemingly pointless study. And the more I thought about it, the more meaningful those numbers seemed. Those who are thanked are more than twice as likely to help out again — that really does quantify the power of thank you. I gave in and looked up more details. I discovered that the researchers — Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino, Ph.D., and Wharton School of Management’s Adam Grant, Ph.D. — did a follow-up experiment in a workplace setting. Here’s the summary in Harvard Science:

“Gino built on the research in a field study that looked at 41 fundraisers at a university, all receiving a fixed salary. The director visited half of the fundraisers in person, telling them, ‘I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.’ The second group received no such expressions of gratitude … Gino said that ‘the expression of gratitude increased the number of calls by more than 50 percent’ for the week, while fundraisers who received no thanks made about the same number of calls as the previous week.”

In long-term care, efforts to improve outcomes and efficiency are intensive and often challenging to implement, dictated by policymakers from afar. These efforts are necessary and can be extremely valuable. But this “pointless” study made me consider how important it is not to lose sight of the basics while focusing on root cause analysis and data crunching and complicated, lengthy performance improvement projects. Encouraging a “culture of thank you” might be a much simpler but extremely effective initiative.

And don’t leave residents out of the picture, either. It may sometimes seem like residents themselves should be saying thank you more often, but consider encouraging workers to look for opportunities to thank residents. This might not only create a more pleasant environment, but help prevent fines or even litigation. Workers who have “rough edges” present an Immediate Jeopardy risk, according to Joan Redden, vice president of regulatory and consumer affairs at Skilled Healthcare. The line between an acceptably gruff manner and derogatory treatment that triggers a Failure to Protect from Abuse citation is dangerously thin, Redden said in her recent McKnight’s Online Expo webcast. Encouraging expressions of gratitude seems like a proactive way to sand down some of the rough edges that could actually hurt residents.

Thank you for reading.