5 “Thank-You Challenged” Manager Types and How to Help Them

August 29, 2012 Darcy Jacobsen

Thumbs up to recognitionWe all know the value of “thank you”. But what do you do with managers who are “thank-you challenged? ”

Victor Lipman posted a great article on Forbes last week, talking about The Joy of Feeling Valued, in which he made a rallying cry for managers to recognize employees and make them feel appreciated. The emphasis below is mine.

My own conclusion after years of in-the-trenches management is that nothing is more important than feeling valued. [… ] Time after time I’ve observed how small gestures of recognition and encouragement can change attitudes from disgruntled to pleased (or at least okay) in the blink of a manager’s eye. The implications for management are clear.  [… ] If you value an employee, let him or her know it. If you don’t make that explicitly clear from time to time, they may well not realize it, even if you think they do. Sincere words to that effect cost nothing and can make the difference between disengagement and productivity.

This type of advice is great, but—let’s face it— nothing new. Even before the statistics started showing how good recognition was for business, it was common sense among good managers that making employees feel valued will create more valuable employees.

But then why isn’t everyone doing it? It turns out, many managers need help.

Sadly, there is often a disconnect between what’s inarguably wise and what people do. Recently, I was speaking to an HR manager who hit it on the nose. “My managers understand the value of thank you,” she said, “They get it. But when it comes to actually doing it, some of them stumble. They get busy and forget. They feel awkward and uncertain and don’t know how to do it. They have doubts. They are ‘thank-you’ challenged.”

So what do you do with these “thank-you challenged” managers?

The “Awkward”Manager

This manager wants to show appreciation to his staff, but just can’t seem to bring himself to do it. He doesn’t know what exactly to say or how or when to say it. He might pull people aside to thank them in private, but rarely manages public appreciation. Saying thank you may feel out of character for this manager, or make him feel silly. So he mostly avoids it and hopes his employees just figure it out.

How to help:  This manager needs encouragement and examples to follow. A structured, company-wide recognition program will increase this manager’s comfort level with offering recognition. Seeing recognition from peers will give him confidence, provide him with models to follow, and make him more at ease with giving regular recognition.

The “Uncertain” Manager

Like the Awkward Manager, the Uncertain Manager wants to say thanks to her employees, but just can’t quite muster up the resolve to do it. In her case, the Uncertain Manager worries about protocol. What is okay? A verbal thanks? An email? A gift card? If she’s limited to a budget, how should that budget be distributed? She worries about appearing to play favorites. She worries about what exactly to do, so mostly she does nothing.

How to help:  This manager needs structure and guidelines. A formal recognition program with clear parameters will give this manager a template for offering appreciation without fear of a misstep. With her anxiety relieved, she will be free to recognize and thank employees whenever she is inspired.

The “Forgetful” Manager

The Forgetful Manager MEANS to say thanks, but somehow the moment always seems to get away from him. He’s not in the habit of saying thank you. He’s just too busy. Soon he can’t remember what it was that he was going to thank employees for, or it feels like too much time has passed and it would be weird. He misses his window and then doesn’t bother.

How to help: This manager needs to build a habit of recognition. Encourage him to set aside time regularly, on a daily or at least a weekly basis, to think about who might have distinguished themselves and deserved a pat on the back. Taking a few moments on a regular basis—building that routine—will yield dividends in terms of his employees happiness, engagement and productivity.

The “Oblivious” Manager

This manager isn’t tuned in to thank you. She might be highly satisfied with her team, but it just doesn’t occur to her to offer appreciation or recognition for a job well done. She doesn’t catch employees doing great things. She isn’t inspired to recognize them. So she doesn’t.

How to help: This manager needs to be educated on the value of appreciation. She hasn’t been tuned in yet to the significant benefits of happiness and engagement that come along with employee recognition. Social recognition is a great way to motivate this manager, as she can see how her peers recognize their reports and hers. Encourage her to follow their example and notice employees who deserve her thanks.   

The “Hostile” Manager

In many ways, this manager can be the biggest challenge. Maybe he thinks that employees shouldn’t expect kudos when they’re being paid to do a job. Maybe he is disengaged himself. Maybe he doesn’t feel appreciated for his own efforts, so he doesn’t have anything to pay forward. Maybe he’s just a misanthrope who probably shouldn’t be in the position he’s in to begin with.

How to help: This manager needs to be shown the possibilities of recognition and how it can be of value to him. Connect the dots for him and show him the business benefits of recognition and engagement. Address any issues that might be keeping this manager disengaged. Finally, include this manager in the cycle. Recognize something great that HE did, and let him get a taste of how great recognition feels.


Above all, have patience. Appreciation doesn’t come easily to everyone. Sometimes they need your help. But once you offer them a better set of tools for recognition, I’m sure you’ll be one of the first people they thank!

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