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Why a timely thank you is the currency of smart business

Written by: John O'Brien, VP Employee Performance Group
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Even the simplest types of recognition are beneficial and meaningful recognition can never be given too often. Use the potent currency of a timely thank you and build a culture of recognition in your organisation by making it accessible everywhere you work.

Think about the last time you led a successful presentation. Your research was revealing, your solution was solid and your close was captivating. On the way out of the room, your colleague pulled you aside and said, "They loved that. Great job."

"Yeah, that was a great job," you think. Come to think of it, that deck was flawless, the delivery was dynamic – and at the end, all jaws were ajar. When your colleague pulled you aside, it initiated the dopamine effect in your brain and elevated your recognition of a job well done.

Now, imagine your coworker didn't say anything on the way out of the room but the next morning, you received an email from her: Hey, great job yesterday!

Your colleague said the same thing in both instances — so why didn't the second one feel quite as good as the first?

In behavioural economics there is a principle called the immediacy effect or hyperbolic discounting — given two similar rewards, humans show a preference for one that arrives sooner rather than later. In fact, our brains discount a small reward exponentially with even a few hours of delayed gratification.

To maximise the impact of employee recognition, we need to be immediate. Here are three tips to recognise your team in the moment:

1. Have an infrastructure in place.

According to our most recent New Rules of Engagement® survey data, those who received recognition in writing were twice as likely to feel inspired – but only 23% of employees received written recognition in the past month.

Make sure your recognition is easy to deploy at a moment's notice or it will slide through the cracks. An email is nice but to elevate your recognition, use your company's recognition platform or bookmark Adding a visual makes it a more vivid, memorable communication piece. And if you can tie the behaviour you're recognising to your company's values, it's even better.

2. Take notes.

Part of successful recognition is proactively setting yourself up to give praise. Leave a section in your meeting notes to jot down team wins on the spot. Not only is specific, immediate feedback better for the person receiving it, you'll also become a better coach.

3. Send that message right after you close the video call.

When you hang up that Zoom call, before you stand up to refill your coffee, take two minutes to fire off your recognition. In an environment where we can't always pull someone aside on the way out of a conference room, getting an inbox notification while the events of the last 50 minutes are still fresh in our mind triggers similar chemical processes.

Over our years of research and client work, we have found that even the simplest types of recognition are beneficial and there is not a single example of meaningful recognition being given too often. We also know recognition is received best when it is delivered in writing, accompanied by a reward and explains how the recipient made a difference. Individuals who received recognition in this way showed the greatest intent to stay and work hard for their organisations.


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Find ways to make recognition and rewards a part of your everyday communication and collaboration. Through RecognitionNow, our clients can quickly and easily send a note of appreciation, give points or shop for rewards in work programs like Outlook, Workplace by Facebook, Teams, Slack, Chrome or Yammer. Use the potent currency of a timely thank you and build a culture of recognition in your organisation by making it accessible everywhere you work.

John O'Brien

Vice President, Employee Performance Group

As Vice President of BI WORLDWIDE’s Employee Performance Group, John O’Brien’s primary focus is to develop employee engagement strategies and solutions that change the behaviours of employees to align with customers’ business objectives. An expert in Employee Recognition Strategy, he educates HR professionals around the world on how to best engage their employees through employee engagement strategies, solutions and best practices.

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