The Not-So-Secret Superpower of a Handwritten Note
By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus
Recently, we wrote about how employee engagement is at an all-time low in American companies.
As a result of this (and other factors, likely), it is becoming rarer and rarer for employees to say “We love what we do!” with each passing year.
Plus, in many industries, there is an ongoing war struggle to obtain quality talent. The average tenure an employee has with a company is decreasing year in and year out.
But fear not! This is not a bad news blog – there is a simple yet effective solution that is time-tested and has more impact in workplaces today than ever before.
If executed correctly, engagement will increase, morale will skyrocket, and it could even have a ripple effect far beyond the confines of your organization.
So, what is this magical solution? This fix-all for employee apathy and demeanor?
It's as simple as a handwritten note. Not a text, not an email; not a video nor a voice message, but a good, old-fashioned, pen-to-paper kind of thing your grandparents would send you on their special stationery.
Whether it is a thank-you card or totally blank, it does not matter. The only non-negotiable stipulation? It must be handwritten.
It should be mailed to your recipient’s home or office – but we encourage you to send it to their home. It does not need to be long, but it does need to be genuine, authentic, and speak specifically to the reason you are writing them. Want to be very creative? Send a note to that person’s significant other or their parents (we will have another blog on that later).
What Is So Powerful About a Handwritten Note?
If you can spare us a few more paragraphs, we will get straight to that. But first, a little context.
If you read our blog, you know that we are big fans of the book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (or the original, The 5 Love Languages). These languages, defined by researchers, include:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
Through these avenues, we see and interpret the communication we receive from others. It is also the default system for how we express our affection or appreciation for those we communicate with.
With this in mind, can you see how the handwritten note is a way to communicate appreciation?
In fact, it can act as a communicator in so many different languages – so much so that it can become a superpower for you and your organization. When done correctly, you can use a handwritten note to speak all of the languages.
Here is how:
Words of Affirmation: When your note is written the right way, it should affirm what the person did well and how they are outstanding. Further, it should encourage and affirm their skills, attitude, work ethic, etc. Ultimately, it should inspire them to continue doing whatever they did that caused you to send the note in the first place.
Gift Giving: When cleaning out the belongings of deceased residents in a retirement home, healthcare administrators tell us all the time that it is never a surprise to find a shoebox of cards and letters that the departed person kept for most of their life. They are often their love notes, the hand-drawn pictures from their children, or an assortment of the birthday, anniversary, or congratulatory cards that they received over a lifetime. Why do they keep them? With all the material possessions we acquire in our lifetime, why do the cards and notes remain? We suggest they are there, just like the pictures, because the notes and cards can be pulled out at any time and the thoughts and words can be relived as if the gift was just given on that day. It is the gift that continues giving long after it has been received. Write a specific note that details why you are so thankful or grateful for what you have witnessed or better yet, what you felt because of that person’s actions.
Acts of Service: Doing something for a person you appreciate is a way of showing your appreciation or affection for them. When you truly take the time to craft a thoughtful note – to be honest and real with your thoughts and words – you are engaging in a genuine act of service.
Quality Time: Sure, in its purest form, quality time is the time you spend with the person you are trying to share your appreciation for. But with the right amount of effort invested in your note, you are spending (or some may say sending) your best time with (to) them. You are giving up what is the most precious to all of us – time – to invest in your recipient.
Physical Touch: Admittedly, this may be the hardest language to achieve in a handwritten note. And maybe some will say we are stretching it here, but we would contend that when it is written by your hand (and, trust us, it is ok if your handwriting is not all that great or legible), the reader may feel like you have reached out and touched them with your words and thoughts. Seeing your handwriting lets them know that you are there.
In a digital world where many of us are working remotely and where the average employee receives 121 emails per day, a handwritten note not only sticks out – it communicates thoughtfulness, it connects author to reader, and it is something that can be cherished for a lifetime.
Plus, handwritten notes have been shown to trigger the neurotransmitter dopamine (the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemical).
So, take a few more moments – pull out the pen and paper and invest some of your time and effort into acknowledging the efforts and contributions of those who work and live around you!
You will give them a ‘feel good’ gift of dopamine and we can almost always guarantee that you will never regret sending a handwritten note!