Joy in Work: Five Languages of Appreciation

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Have you ever been excited to provide a recognition gift or reward to staff only to have it scorned or met with a “chilly” or “less than thrilled” reception? You won’t be the only one, and it’s not a unique phenomenon. And, amid COVID-19, gift cards, food, certificates, and other perks are ubiquitous for staff incentives. “If you pick up a shift, we’ll give you a gas gift card;” “if you can work Saturday, we’ll enter your name into a drawing for $75 at Champy’s Family Restaurant”. For years, pizza parties and ice cream socials were easy ways to acknowledge staff. Yet, the pandemic has driven incentives like those to their limits.

But did you know there is a bit of science to it?

Here are a few things to consider: At work, people express and receive appreciation in different ways. If you try to express gratitude in ways that aren’t meaningful to your staff, they may not feel valued at all. It is because you and your team speak different languages. In The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White describe the disconnect. As it turns out, there is no “one size fits all” standard. Instead, there are five, and you might consider these as you offer incentives and attempt to acknowledge your staff for their work.

Words of Affirmation – Some employees appreciate the verbal acknowledgment that their work is appreciated. A simple “good job” to the employee or publicly recognizing – perhaps during a meeting – a job well done will be received best by employees whose primary language of appreciation is through words of affirmation.

Acts of Service – Another way to show appreciation is through acts of service. Small gestures that show workers they are valued can go a long way. A few service-based actions: helping with a challenging project, assisting with technology problems, dusting off snowy cars for night shift workers, carrying office supplies and delivering lunch or coffee.

Receiving Gifts – Some employees value material objects as a sign of being rewarded for extraordinary performance at work. An employee engagement program where employees can redeem their efforts for products or experiences caters perfectly to these employees’ desires. 

Quality Time – Organizations whose cultures are centered around teamwork and being visible to one another understand how face-time symbolizes appreciation and belongingness in the workplace. Aside from offering company outings like picnics and volunteer opportunities, some employees value one-on-one meetings and check-ins. If supervisors only send “good job” emails, this won’t resonate as well with an employee whose primary language of appreciation is quality time.

Physical Touch – Lastly, there are those who most recognize appreciation through physical touch. Ways to speak this type of person’s appreciation language would be to give them a high five, handshake, fist bump, or pat on the back when acknowledging them for a great job. Personal boundaries are essential to keep in mind with this language of appreciation.