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Friday, August 30, 2013 - 3:37am

WORKING: Appreciating Your Boss

Bad bosses? Everyone has a story.

The tales about good bosses are much rarer. The boss that deserves a “thank you” is almost unheard of.

Yet they do exist. A listener to our regular Working conversations Friday mornings sent us an email asking how to express her gratitude to one such manager:

“How do you genuinely thank your boss without seeming like a butt-kisser?” she asked. “I don't have much face time with my supervisor. The opportunity to pull her aside to thank her for her help or encouragement is rare. And awkward. What is the best way and best time to tell her how grateful I am that she hired me, she has faith in me and that she helps me when I am overwhelmed?”

“It’s difficult for any of us to go thank our boss,” said Brandon Smith, an Emory University business professor and workplace consultant as well as our resident expert on workplace and career matters. “It feels just a little weird. How do you do that in a way that’s genuine?”

For starters, “Don’t do it publicly,” he said. “That will only cause problems: People will say, ‘Look what she did, look at what he did. Clearly, they’re a kiss-up.”

So Smith said workers have three options, from most impact to least:
- handwritten note
- voicemail message
- email

“There’s nothing better today than a handwritten note to thank somebody,” Smith said. “And I promise you, her boss will keep it. We all keep handwritten notes today because we don’t get them very often.”

He said the boss gets an emotional “bump” every time he or she sees the note, which is good for the note-writer. But he said don’t expect the boss ever will acknowledge the note because that conversation can be awkward too.

Similarly, a boss may never mention the thank-you voicemail message an employee leaves after hours, but the impact will still be significant.

“You don’t have to worry about the awkward conversation of your boss’s response and how you respond to her response,” Smith said. And he said the message doesn’t have to be long.

If those both feel strange, Smith said an email is an acceptable third option.

“If you’re just more comfortable writing an email, that’s fine,” he said. “My only caution with an email is keep it succinct. Emails have a tendency to ramble on and on, and then you look like you’re blubbering and pandering, and it’s not good.”

Smith said thanking a good boss can play on our psychological tendency to respond to positive feedback and result in more of that “good-boss” behavior. But it offers more than that.

“You get on their radar. They’re thinking about you now because they had this positive interaction with you, which is good,” Smith said.

Brandon Smith teaches about leadership, communication, and workplace culture at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. More of his advice is on his blog and at While you’re there, ask him your workplace or career question. We might answer you in a future radio segment.