The lost art of thank-you notes

“Will you write me a recommendation?” is the typical request of high school students asking teachers to submit a letter for college or for employees to ask a supervisor for a professional reference.

After the letter was submitted, did they write a thank-you note?

This January, LinkedIn published that only 38 percent of millennials (born 1981 through 1986) send a thank-you note compared to 81 percent of baby boomers (born 1946 through 1964).

LinkedIn details the worsening gap with business-specific thank-you notes. Only 26 percent of Millennials send notes, compared to 46 percent of baby boomers. Yet, CNBC reported in 2019 that 80 percent of hiring managers consider the thank-you note when comparing candidates.

Northwestern University Career Advancement encourages thank-you notes as a professional courtesy. There are three elements to consider: showing appreciation, reiterating qualifications and communicating continued interest.

Being timely with emailing a thank-you shows an immediate connection with the person. Later, writing a note card and sending it in the mail shows additional respect to the person in taking more time to reflect on the significance of the moment.

With more personal relationships with teachers, coaches and bosses, adding a gift card is a thoughtful gesture. The gift amount should be appropriate to the relationship.

For example, if a coach enjoys Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, giving a $10 gift card is a great excuse for a treat. If a teacher likes books and stationery, a $10 gift card from The Flying Pig can be an appreciated splurge.

Do not equate more with better. A thank-you represents a token toward the long-standing commitment to the relationship. Being over-generous could make the receiver feel uncomfortable, making the bond less natural.
The University of California at Berkley Greater Good Science Center sponsors academic research into social and emotional well-being. The center contends that keeping a gratitude journal and writing for 15 minutes, around three times a week, for at least two weeks, can improve happiness.

Research shows that writing down people’s acts of kindness can help to avoid taking others for granted. Documenting up to five experiences that make us thankful in a notebook or typing up reflections can improve happiness levels.

Berkley lists eight areas to think about:

  • be specific in who you are thankful for;
  • give details of why the person is special;
  • include personal points on the impact the person has on you;
  • consider what would be missed without that person;
  • see good things as gifts not to be taken for granted;
  • record unexpected events or surprises;
  • list a variety of people and different reflections about them;
  • write regularly to show commitment.
  • Taking time to send an unexpected thank-you note can help reconnect with a special person. Ideas include forwarding an article of shared interest or having a phone conversation. Especially when someone is experiencing a tough time, like a medical recovery or social isolation, showing gratitude to the person can boost their spirits.

Last year, the Mayo Clinic published that being grateful can improve sleep, mood and immunity. Research shows feeling appreciation can lower depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease.

The topic of gratefulness is discussed this June in The New York Times article, “Gratitude really is good for you. Here’s what the science shows.” However, one person feeling thankful is only half of the equation. It is equally important to express gratitude to others. Reciprocity makes the emotion of gratitude even more effective.

The report explains that writing thank-you notes can have mental health benefits that improve self-esteem and daily satisfaction. Happiness levels can increase for both the giver and receiver, as well as for others who observe those acts of gratitude.

As Thanksgiving nears, along with the final episode of “The Crown” on Netflix, it is worth mentioning an anecdote from Andrew Morton’s book, “Diana: Her True Story.”

It describes how Princess Diana trained her sons Prince William and Prince Harry with self-discipline: “Every night at six o’clock, the boys would sit down and write thank-you notes or letters to family and friends.”

The book says, “If she returned from a dinner party at midnight she could not sleep easily until she had written her letter of thanks.”

Thank-you notes are a classic that endures.

(Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.)