7

I have been helping this person with some stuff (related to technical work) often even though I don't have any stakes in it. Sometimes it is via chat or on call and I have spend reasonable time on it. The person is at a higher position(3 levels above) than me.

Of course, the idea behind it is to show that I am going out of my way in helping other teams/people.

To add more context, my previous boss in the same organization once told me that try to get some appreciation mails for all the support you provide to other teams. It helps during annual review.

Is it proper for me to ask for an appreciation email from him for all the help I've extended? If yes, then how should I phrase it so that I do not come off as selfish or otherwise inappropriate.

Edit- Couple of things here.

  • The person I'm helping is at the same level as my boss but for a different team. I'm helping with technical stuff which I usually do for my team.
  • Another interesting thing is I am helping him on an unofficial basis;helping on technical things which he doesn't know and supposedly no one in his team(perhaps that is why he asked my help for around a dozen times). That person has thanked me multiple times and the thing is my boss doesn't know all this. I am not sure if he will ever get to know.So after the umpteenth instance I thought of asking for a small email or something.

If it is not proper to ask for an appreciation email then maybe I should draw a line as to how much support/help I can give unofficially. But that is tricky in itself - afterall he is at a much higher position.

Edit #2 -

As suggested by the answers I requested the person last week and haven't heard back since then. :-) Either he forgot or got pissed off or sent a secret mail to my boss.

  • Is it your job to provide this help? Are you going above and beyond your normal duties in providing the assistance? IE your normal job is in the mail room or as filing, but you have been helping a manager with pivot tables and queries... – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 29 '13 at 4:31
  • @R11G I edited your question slightly to focus on your question. Great question by the way! I've wondered the same thing before myself. – enderland Nov 29 '13 at 16:26
7

Just go ahead and ask for it. Be polite and state the purpose.

For an annual review or similar it is totally legitimate to ask for such letters or mails and I wouldn't expect anybody to see this as selfish. Especially if they know the corporate ladder. Superiors should actually be happy about your request, I would think, as it shows you're invested in the company.

EDIT: The pre-supposition is that the work done is actually out of scope of your current assignments and really goes 'above and beyond'. If you're just doing your work for somebody higher up in the food chain, this is what your job is about and you shouldn't expect any gold stars for it.

  • 2
    If someone three levels below me asked me to send a thanks mail for helping them with Excel formulas (or the equivalent) I would stop asking them for help (and likely wouldn't send the e-mail). I am more than happy to talk to their boss if it is outside their normal work duties and they need to get the boss' okay, but I am not going to send them retroactive justification for any manner of possible mistakes on their part. That's just asking to be sucked in to bad political situations. – jmac Nov 29 '13 at 0:03
  • I might not be big-co enough but when subordinates 3 levels below who help me quite often ask me for a recommendation/appreciation letter to produce in an annual review or goal-setting meeting to support their value in the company or position, I'm quite happy to give it. And if I needed help with excel formulas or similar stuff constantly, and there was somebody doing it for me happily, I'd be keen on keeping that person around. – CMW Nov 29 '13 at 8:15
  • 1
    If I specifically asked for their help outside their job description, and they did a stellar job above and beyond, absolutely no problem! More than happy to do it. If they are just doing their job, then their boss should already know, and should ask me how they are doing and/or would have already gotten an e-mail thanking him/her for letting me use that team's resources. I don't think it's appropriate to ask for a letter unless you're sure you've dotted your 'i's and crossed your 't's first is all. – jmac Nov 29 '13 at 8:51
  • 1
    I included this detail in my answer. – CMW Nov 29 '13 at 9:02
  • 1
    Thanks, that makes me feel a lot more comfortable about the answer. – jmac Nov 29 '13 at 9:16
3

Executive Summary

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does the person actually appreciate what you're doing?
  2. What additional benefit will you get from them saying it?
  3. Is making an explicit request worth the risk of offending them?

Are you really helping?

If you are going to ask them to give appreciation for your help, you'd better be very sure that you're actually giving them significant help that they value.

What you consider 'reasonable time' they may not, or what you consider additional support they may think is just part of your job duties (many people 3 levels above you don't know what you're supposed to be doing all day).

If you have very different perspectives on the value of the help that you're providing, then you are likely to have a very awkward conversation. Make sure that you are actually helping and that the other person perceives it as help.

What do you get if they say 'thank you'?

So let's assume that you've established that both you and them have similar thoughts as to the value of the help you're providing. Right now, both of you are tacitly acknowledging the support, and are both valuing it, just not saying it.

If he were to tell you, "Thank you", what will change? The value of the help doesn't change. The perception of others doesn't change (since he's just thanking you personally).

Rightly or wrongly, a lot of the appreciation in an office is left unsaid. Appreciation is implied, and shown through actions on your behalf (again, implied). Every relationship has an unspoken balance sheet of deposits and withdrawals.

Is it worth the risk?

Most of the time there is little value to having an explicit thanks rather than an implicit one. It makes you feel good, but any thank you that has to be asked for isn't going to feel good as a natural one. So you have to weigh the benefits against the risks of asking.

If you ask for explicit appreciation, the other person may assume that you are not doing this to be kind, but you are trying to garner favor. Gestures of kindness usually get you more brownie points than turning support in to an exchange.

If you have different ideas of the value of the support you're giving, asking could bring that ugly issue to the forefront. You could ask for some appreciation, and learn the other person really doesn't appreciate it as much as you think he should. That's awkward too.

Not to mention that I can't really think of a way to politely ask for appreciation that doesn't come off sounding like you're implying, "Why don't you appreciate what I do for you?"

Suggestion

Rather than focusing on getting told 'thank you', focus on making sure you're providing value. Keep that balance sheet in the black, and rather than asking for thanks, you can ask for something that he can help you with. If he is three ranks above you in the organization, he has a lot more clout than you do, and for your relatively common support may be able to get a much more valuable favor in return.

Vocal appreciation is overrated unless voluntary. If you're going to help, you may as well get some real value for it, and create a far stronger relationship in the process by not asking awkward favors.

3

During the annual-review period: You all work for the same company, so you presumably have the same review process (even if not the same dates). In my experience it's not at all unusual, during this period, for people to ask that people who wouldn't normally be on the boss's "talk to these people list" to send feedback. This request looks something like this:

It's review time and my manager may not be aware of the work I've been doing for you,1 so would you be willing to send him email with feedback for me? Comments on what you liked and what I could improve on would both be helpful. (Optional: This year my performance goals are focused on X, Y, and Z.2) Thanks very much!

1 If it was a while ago or the person is very busy or distractable, you might find it helpful to remind him of what work you're talking about.

2 This tells the person where his feedback fits into a broader picture. It can also help reduce the "what do I say?" problem that some people have.

During the rest of the year: the best time to ask for feedback is actually right after you've done something major to help someone. (If your help is in smaller, ongoing chunks this might not apply to you.) As you're wrapping up you say something like "by the way, if you have feedback on my work, I'm sure my manager would love to hear it. (If needed: identity, contact info) Thanks!"

Either way: it's important to ask for feedback, not just praise. That feedback will likely include praise, but constructive criticism is important too, and constructive criticism that the person already gave you and that you acted on makes for particularly useful feedback (shows receptiveness, ability to improve, etc).

Specific information is way more useful than "he was great!" (or "he was terrible" :-) ). As a manager receiving such feedback I want to know what the person did; it helps me evaluate how much that fits in with your existing responsibilities, how much of a stretch it was, possibly how important to the business it was, etc. You shouldn't try to tell someone else what to write, but if there are particular aspects you'd like to call attention to, you can mention that.

2

I see two separate but related problems here.

The first problem is the one that you've articulated: you're helping out this other person, and you'd like to be recognized for the work that you've done that is above and beyond your normal work.

There are several different ways to handle this. One way is very casual. When they thank you in person, say something like, "I'm glad to help out. It would really be helpful to me if you would let my manager know that you appreciate this". Practice saying it out loud a few times so that you can phrase it in such a way that feels natural to you, and so you don't feel so unnatural in saying it.

If a situation like this occurs in a chat, you could simply cut and paste the contents of the chat into an email to your manager to let them know about it. I usually phrase this as, "I wanted to share with you some kudos that I got for helping out [whoever] with [whatever]". If it's someone that I've been helping out a lot, then I'd change it to something like, "I wanted to share with you the appreciation that I got from [whoever] for [whatever], which is something that I've been helping [whoever] with for a couple of weeks [for this reason]".

If the other person emails you a thanks, then I forward the email to my manager with something like, "I wanted to share this with you. It really made my day that [whoever] appreciated the help that I've given them on [whatever]."

Another option that you have would come at review time. If your company asks you to provide the names of people outside your team who can give feedback about your performance, you can give this person's name to your manager. How you go about doing this is dependent on how your company manages its review time (if it does at all). I work for a big company, so everyone knows when it's review time, and we all know that we'll get requests for feedback about people on our team and elsewhere in the company. It's not considered a breech of etiquette here for someone to give my name for feedback and not tell me in advance about it.

The second problem that you have is that your manager doesn't know that you've been regularly helping out this other person. If you have a regular meeting with your manager, or you have some kind of regular status email/form/whatever that you have to submit, it's appropriate to mention in either your regular meeting or in your status email that you did [whatever] for [whoever]. If you don't have either of these, then you should document it separately (as listed above). In doing this, make sure that you're very positive about helping out others and sharing your expertise.

Finally, don't forget to pay it forward. Whenever someone does a favor for you or really goes above and beyond, make sure that their manager knows. Usually, I do this by sending them an email that thanks them for their efforts, and I CC their manager on the email. If their work is truly exemplary, I send the email directly to their manager that explains what the situation was and how their employee helped me out, and I CC the person on it so that they know that I contacted their manager to let them know how awesome they are. My email to their manager includes what awesome thing they did, how it impacted me, and includes my sincere thanks for their assistance/whatever.

0

If I provide a solution to a problem, I usually follow-up with an email asking if it worked. Sometimes I'll include suggestions like, "If there's anything else I can help with, ..."

Based on the type of help and/or particular person you are helping, you're boss should know if it is outside your typical duties. Even if they indicate that it worked, what more do you want?

I'm not sure what level of appreciation you expect, but I wouldn't ask for anything formal unless it was a large project. In that case, my boss would know ahead of time I was working on it and it would be part of my duties.

-1

It's an appropriate request to make. Phrase it in a way so that it's clear it is his choice e.g. "for the work I've been doing in xyz would I be able to get it mentioned in an appraisal mail". People appreciate honesty and it will make them comfortable when they see you don't have an ulterior motive as you would if you tried to get the appraisal mail in an indirect way.

  • Why the down vote? – upthehill Dec 1 '13 at 1:43

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