I have worked at my organization for more than 15 years. I received a few thank you notes from my administrator, but they were for trivial matters such as cleaning a coffee machine and running folders to a meeting. These are small things I do every day. I get the impression that the notes are forced, so my supervisor can meet a monthly quota, and very insincere (especially since the same verbiage is used every time).
There is a learning curve to writing good thank you notes. Yes, the best ones are very specific to behaviors that leaders appreciate most and want to see continued. A gold standard thank you note is also handwritten and mailed to the employee’s home.
Here is one excellent example of a thank you note shared with me by an organization:
Dear Elvira, I can’t tell you how touched I was when the patient’s baby threw up in the hall and you immediately ran and brought paper towels, comforted , and helped clean the mess even though it wasn’t your area or the family department. You truly lived Caring Heart General’s value of compassion.
As you have said, it is not rewarding to receive a non-specific thank you note, such as, “Thank you for doing a great job today,” or one that recognizes you for doing your job (i.e., “Thank you for covering for me while I was on vacation.”).
However, I also urge you to remember that it’s often a challenge to even get thank you notes written at times and suggest you exercise some restraint in being overly critical about the quality of these notes. Make it a goal to see progress, not perfection. And focus on the positive.
I also suggest that leaders emphasize the importance of writing thank you’s to anyone in the organization when they see an employee do something above and beyond the call of duty (or exhibit a behavior that reflects an important organizational value). I notice there is a tendency for managers to limit their thank you notes to those in their own department, which will not achieve the interdepartmental culture of teamwork that hardwires excellence.
A last thought: let your boss know what you appreciate about him or her. Role model what you want him or her to do for you.