One of the first lessons we learn as children is to say “thank you.” But at that age, we may not fully grasp the true power behind these words, especially in workplace culture.

Burnout has many causes—and many companies have taken a number of steps to mitigate it, some more successful than others. In a recent marketplace survey of 1,000 full-time U.S. corporate professionals, the biggest driver of employee burnout our survey identified could be relatively easy to address. More than three in 10 people cited “lack of support or recognition from leadership” as fueling their burnout.

You don’t need focus groups and a multi-million-dollar program to help remedy this. All you need is to remember two words: “Thank you.”

We all know those words—if your mother was anything like mine, she drilled their use in you from the time you were old enough to speak, often pairing them with another useful word, “please.”

It turns out that thanking people is not just polite, it’s also one of the best things you can do to drive performance. Translated into business-speak, companies where people thank each other have “high-recognition cultures.” And those high-recognition cultures have nearly one-third less turnover than other organizations. That translates into multi-million-dollar savings—and it all starts with two words, liberally deployed.

Sometimes when we think of recognition in a business context, we think that must mean something tangible: bonuses, promotions. While I don’t know anyone who’d say no to a bonus, it turns out that money really isn’t everything. Researchers gave two groups of people the choice of reading a magazine or solving puzzles and told one group they’ll earn a dollar for each puzzle they solve. Guess which group solved more puzzles? The group that did it for fun rather than profit.

When my colleagues in Germany ran an innovation contest a few years ago, only 20% of the people who entered said they did it to win a prize. Nearly three in ten were drawn by the intellectual challenge; slightly more did it to gain visibility within the organization; and just over half said they saw it as an “opportunity to publish an existing idea.”

Perhaps the most effective thank-yous are the unexpected ones. When I found out my colleagues had nominated me for Working Mother magazine’s Ted Childs Life Work Excellence Award last year, it was quite a surprise—although I’m definitely working, I’m not a mother! But it showed me that the work we’d been doing to embed well-being in Deloitte’s culture really mattered to my colleagues who are working mothers—and fathers, and people like me whose only “children” have four legs and fur.

So start with your own team. When people go above and beyond, say “thank you.” When people create innovative ideas—“thank you.” Maybe throw in a “please” once in a while, too. Your mother would be so proud. And your employees and colleagues will be much more satisfied, too.


  • Jen Fisher

    Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte and Editor-at-Large, Life-Work Integration at Thrive Global

    Jen Fisher is a leading voice on workplace well-being and creating human-centered organizational cultures. She frequently speaks and writes about building a culture of well-being at work and serves as Deloitte’s chief well-being officer in the United States, where she drives the strategy and innovation around work-life, health, and wellness. Jen is also the host of WorkWell, a podcast series on the latest work-life trends and author of the book, Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines (McGraw-Hill, June 2021). Jen is a healthy lifestyle enthusiast and seeks to infuse aspects of wellness in everything she does. She believes self-care is a daily pursuit and considers herself an exercise fanatic, sleep advocate, and book nerd! As a breast cancer survivor, she is passionate about advocating for women’s health and sharing her recovery journey. Jen lives in Miami with her husband, Albert and dog, Fiona.

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