“Thanks for your Hard Work” vs. “Thanks for your Good Work”

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A popular thing for a manger to say—often in a team setting— is “Thanks for your hard work!” A popular addition is, “Thanks for your hard work and long hours.”  Have you ever heard this?  If you are a manager, have you ever said this? 

The context is usually at the end of a project, after a release, or perhaps a budget review cycle.  The managers says, “We put in a lot of long hours, and hard work.  Thanks to all those who toiled to get this done!” 

Hard work should definitely be appreciated, as it did, indeed get the work done. But is it worthy of praise?  And in a team setting?  I don’t think so. 

“Hard work” tends to be called out and appreciated too much, and at the sacrifice of good work.  The praise that comes in the form of “thanks for your hard work” tends to reward the higher-drama elements of a project.  It tends to call out—positively–the people who react instead of those who plan.  It rewards the behaviors that create inefficiencies rather than those behaviors that create efficiencies.  It rewards individual effort, rather than team effort.

This is why I would hesitate to call out and praise “hard work,” because this means that the work was done in a hard manner.  It was done inefficiently, in a risky manner, at the sacrifice of quality standards, at the last minute, and indicates that there was waste in the system.  It implies to the team that the only way to earn thanks and praise is to be inefficient and reactive.  Firefighting mode should be saved for jobs that necessarily are akin to fighting fires, not those that, by poor planning are akin to fighting fires.  Praising firefighting implies that the way to succeed –perhaps the only way to succeed — on the team is to extend your work hours, sacrifice work-life balance, and participate in efforts that seem to be failing and need to be “saved” through hard work.  

On a team, there could be people who planned effectively, met deadlines without extra drama or worry, and got the work done in a quality manner.  These are people who do “good work.”  These are the people who should be praised and their specific efforts should be cited.  If they are not specifically cited and called out, then they will cease to operate in this manner, and will shift to the “hard work” mode, and look for praise that way.  

So while there may be a temptation to thank people for their hard work, you should instead consider the “hard” work to be exclusively opportunities for improvement.  The praise and thanks that goes to those who worked the extra hours, made last minute corrections, jumped in to save the day, should be limited to the following:

“Thanks for getting the work done, and in the process identifying where we have progress to be made to make this a better operation.  I look forward to identifying how we can avoid the late nights and difficulties we experienced with this project.” 

Then you can transition to those who did plan well, who got the work done on time, and around how things seem to go smoothly and say, “Thanks for your good work” (and cite what it was that was good: On time, no drama, good planning, smart use of resources, etc.)   There may be opportunities to have the good workers mentor the hard workers.  

When all of the work is done, the emphasis tends to shift toward those who worked the most.  Those who worked the best are frequently ignored.  These best performers provided solutions that are creative, innovative, timely, and solved problems, but unless the work was also “hard” (meaning, long hours), then that good work was ignored.

Do you have stories of “hard work” being cited instead of “good work?”  Do you ever hear a manager focus primarily on the “good work?”   Let’s hear your thoughts!

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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  1. […] “Thanks for your Hard Work” vs. “Thanks for your Good Work” […]

  2. […] have identified the actions that built toward the results and you have the results, you can then thank those who performed these actions for their good work, which is usually better than the hard work that the reactive employees are still […]

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