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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 4, 2007

Gift from the boss deserves a personal thank-you note

By Michelle Singletary

I received a note just after Christmas from the head of a small nonprofit organization who was a little bit upset that gifts to her staff were not acknowledged with a written thank-you note.

The executive said she spends about $80 per employee during the holidays for a gift card, small present and lunch, to thank them for a job well done during the year.

So why nary a thank-you note in return?

"Maybe my concern is overplayed. I am not sure if they don't think it is much of a gift, or if in today's world people just don't say thank you anymore," the director said, requesting that I not identify her for obvious reasons.

Well, did you get a gift this year from your employer? Have you sent a thank-you note yet?

Perhaps you didn't send one because you thought it was like receiving a paycheck no thanks necessary.

However, if you receive a gift from your employer you should send a thank-you note, according to Pamela M. Harvit, a corporate etiquette and protocol consultant who also writes the "Mind Your Manners" column for the Sunday Gazette-Mail in Charleston, W.Va.

"Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do," Harvit said. "Not sending a thank-you note may appear as if an employee feels entitled to the gift or bonus."

You are only entitled to compensation for your work. A gift at the holiday is an extra treat worthy of a written thank-you.

Who gets the note? Send it to your immediate supervisor who, in turn, should pass it up to his or her supervisor, Harvit said.

Now, what about all the holiday gifts you received from a friend or family member? They too, deserve a handwritten thank-you, according to experts. Notice I didn't say "require."

A thank-you note should be given "freely" and "with grace and sincerity," said Sherri Athay, a gift consultant and author of "Present Perfect: Unforgettable Gifts for Every Occasion."

The point of a thank-you is to acknowledge the fact that someone gave you something and to let them know the gift was in fact received. But the thanks shouldn't be delivered in a perfunctory manner.

Once I took my daughter to a birthday party for one of her friends. As we were leaving, the mother handed me a thank-you card for the child's gift.

Athay's take on the quick turnaround: "It sounds like she was trying to check you off the list ... instead of a sincere thank-you note showing true appreciation."

I chuckled. I completely understood. We're all so busy, and at least she was trying to make sure the note was delivered.

In case you don't know, here are some tips from etiquette experts on how to write a thank-you note:

  • Express gratitude.

  • Mention the gift specifically and how you plan on using it.

  • If you do not like the gift, at least try to find one feature that is noteworthy or unique or mention the giver's thoughtfulness.

  • If you neglected to write down what the specific gift was, then thank the person for taking the time to remember you during the holiday or your special occasion.

  • If the gift is money or a gift card, mention how you plan to use the cash or what hope to buy with the gift card.

  • While it's more acceptable these days, an e-mail thank-you is still impersonal. "If a person can touch and feel a thank-you note, to perhaps put it down and come back for a second look, it is so much better," said Joan R. Stokely, president of the Society of Diplomacy Inc. and founder of the Protocol School of Philadelphia.

    And what about presents from close relatives and friends handed to you personally?

    Thank-you notes in this case are optional, says Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and author of "Excuse Me, But I Was Next ... How to Handle the Top 100 Manners Dilemmas."

    Said Stokely, "You should absolutely send a thank-you note if the giver is absent or a gift is mailed."

    Finally, your note should be promptly sent. The experts don't agree on how soon, but generally within a few weeks. If you've been a thank-you note scofflaw, don't worry. "Later is always better than never," Stokely said.