Expressing the Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

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In recognition of Valentine’s Day, a group of employees engaged in an exercise around love languages. The task was for them to identify and discuss their love languages among themselves. The goal was for each person to have a better understanding of how they like to show or receive love in the workplace. Love in this context is not referring to romantic relationships at work. Instead, it is referring to ways employees can support one another. The exercise was based on the Five Love Languages—Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch—identified by Dr. Gary Chapman.

In his book called The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Chapman introduced the subject by using this analogy— Each of us learned to speak a language that eases the flow of communication with people around us. However, communication becomes difficult when we meet someone with a different language. When this happens, we are forced to act out what we mean, point at things, or draw out images; which may not be effective. So, for effective communication to occur, we must learn the language of the other person. 

The group exercise caused me to think of how love languages translate to the workplace. In terms of workplace culture, what do they mean? I later learned that Dr. Chapman has a follow-up book focused on the workplace which I would like to read. However, I want to think of them in terms of appreciation and support for employees. Who wants to work in a place where they do not feel valued?

Acts of Service

Anything a person does to ease the burden of responsibilities on another.

A coworker was struggling with setting up a conference room for a meeting. I noticed that she kept moving the tables around and seemed frustrated doing so. I offered to assist. Within a short period, the room was all set. Throughout the day, she said “thank you” many times expressing relief. Another employee may not have received the same effort with the same amount of gratitude. Other acts of service include offering thought partnership on a project or taking some work off a colleague’s plate. 

Words of Affirmation

Unsolicited compliments mean the world to you.

I have come across people who do not believe in giving compliments to other employees, and it is rooted in the idea that everyone is paid to get their jobs done. While that is true, the person who values words of affirmation still wants to hear or read compliments for a job well done. The words of affirmation show the employee that they are being noticed and appreciated. Saying or writing words like, “Outstanding job on that presentation today” or “I want you to be part of this meeting because I value your perspective” usually go a long way in motivating the employee. One thing to note, however, is that being specific with your compliment is often more significant. 

Receiving Gifts

The thought and effort behind the gift matter.

Thoughtful gifts require attention to details. Those details may include a particular need or a favorite color, food, or event. Most times, the receiver is looking out for the thought and effort behind the gift. For example, if you know that your coworker loves to visit a particular coffee shop every day, you can show appreciation to that person by buying a gift card to that coffee shop. For another person, that same gift card may not mean much. The main idea is understanding what the employee values.

Quality Time

Offering full, undivided attention.

A person who appreciates quality time is looking to see how interested you are in supporting or getting to know them professionally. In this case, regular check-ins, lunch meetings, or one-on-one meetings are some ways to offer quality time to coworkers. Quality time provides an opportunity to discuss goals or challenges, and strategies for navigating them. It also shows your interest in their success. The regularity of the meetings often impacts the feeling of support.

Physical Touch

Physical contact is crucial.

Physical touch is the most sensitive language to apply in the workplace. In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, everyone needs to observe caution here. When showing appreciation, it would be best if you did not go about rubbing people’s backs or hugging people that don’t want hugs. However, to show appreciation to those who prefer this language of physical touch, your safe bets may be high-fives, fist bumps, or just a proper handshake!

These languages of appreciation may not be all-encompassing in the workplace. So, it is best to apply them practically. The goal should be to communicate and show appreciation appropriately.

~ This article is also posted on the SHRM Blog.


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