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am I supposed to thank my boss for paying me? — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’ve just had a mid-year profit share conversation with my boss (who majority owns the company, and note that we do not bring out the best in each other so perhaps this is just interpersonal friction) where he told me what my payment would be. This is an established, formal profit share program that you are entitled to as an employee of the business and is related to business profits, not to individual performance.

I said something like “okay, cool” and he asked what my response was. The number was in line with what I’d been led to expect, and I have pretty neutral reactions to compensation as in my role there isn’t any room for negotiation once the figures have been set. I did clarify whether he was looking for a comment on that and he said I could show at least some gratitude as he’d never heard me express my thanks after a figure was revealed (I disagree, but let’s assume he’s right).

I work in a small business of less than 20 employees so to remove a point of friction I have made a mental note to always express thanks, though I’m not sure if this is particular to my boss or is a best practice. Is this common in other firms?

From a strictly logical viewpoint, in a world where emotions are removed and everything functions according to pure logic, you wouldn’t thank your boss for making a contractually obligated profit-sharing payment.

In this world of humans with human emotions … you don’t owe a thank-you for a contractually obligated payment but it can be considered polite in a context like this one (even though the amount is pegged to business profits and not any sort of recognition of your performance). It doesn’t make logical sense for the reasons you point out — just like you don’t owe your boss gratitude for delivering your paycheck on time — but it’s a social convention, a nicety that tends to be useful for relationships and minimizes friction.

That said, your boss’s attitude about it is wrong and stems from a ridiculous paternalism on the part of some managers, as if they are dispensing your pay out of personal beneficence … when in fact they’re basically paying a bill for services rendered. It’s deeply messed up, but it’s also true that greasing the wheels of the interaction with a polite “thank you” will often pay off in good will and a smooth relationship — again, not that it should, but it does. Not with all bosses, but clearly with your current one.

If it helps, you could think of it not as “thank you for delivering this payment that you were contractually obligated to give me” and more as “I appreciate this working relationship that has borne monetary fruit for us both.”


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