Have you ever felt underappreciated at work? You put in your best effort only to feel like it didn’t matter. Feeling unappreciated is more common than most people realize. In fact, some studies suggest that a whopping 80% of employees in the US think they’re not shown enough appreciation at work.
As recognized by Mazlow and many researchers after him, appreciation is a basic human need. When people lack appreciation, they suffer and seek fulfillment elsewhere. Conversely, when people do feel appreciated, they are much more likely to thrive. It’s clear that feeling appreciated at work leads to higher levels of commitment, increased motivation, and enhanced performance.
Appreciation is also the cornerstone of employee engagement which is critical when it comes to increasing productivity. Therefore, companies have every reason to ensure their employees feel appreciated, and investments in this area have been proven to pay off. But how can employers help employees feel appreciated?
The answer can be found in a concept known as the five languages of appreciation, and that's what we'll be looking at in this article. We'll describe what the five languages are and explain how employers can engage with this concept to increase employee happiness, engagement, retention, and productivity.
The 5 Languages of Appreciation
The five languages of appreciation concept stems from the book “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman and Paul White. As the book title suggests, there are five main ways in which people communicate appreciation, and different people prefer and respond better to different languages.
Let's briefly go over each of the five languages so that you can understand them and determine which one will work best for each employee in your company.
Language 1: Words of affirmation
The authors note that 46 % of employees prefer words of affirmation as their primary language of appreciation, making it the most frequently preferred appreciation language. However, it’s important to note that there are many ways to use words of affirmation.
The most simple way is to take notice and voice out your appreciation with something the other person did or said. “Your presentation was very smooth today. I noticed you had changed the beginning, and it made it even more interesting. Good job!” or “You had a very well-thought answer to the customer’s question. Can you repeat it so I can learn it too?”
Affirming positive character or personality traits such as courage, honesty, or perseverance can create an even longer-lasting impact. This is because personality traits aren’t dependent on success or failure, but are more permanent.
You can communicate words of affirmation privately, which some researchers have found to be the most valued and effective method, or publicly, which some people prefer (however, not everyone wants that kind of public attention).
Words of affirmation can be told in a written format, which also allows the recipient to better remember what was said. Teamspective’s praise-feature is a testament to this; many people re-read the praise they received earlier.
Language 2: Quality Time
Spending quality time together is another way of communicating appreciation, and chosen as the primary language by 26% of the workforce.
Quality time can take many forms. It can mean one-on-one conversations in a meeting room, over lunch or after work. It can also mean engaging in shared experiences, such as barbecues, team lunch or office parties, inviting someone to join in small group dialogues, or even just expressing a desire to work with the other person. Keep in mind that individual preferences vary even between these types of quality time, and not everyone is thrilled about spending the evening hours with colleagues.
Language 3: Acts of service
22 % of the workforce feel especially appreciated when others reach out to help them or ask for their help, as this communicates the importance of their work.
Acts of service come in many forms, but the overall idea is simple: offer help with completing a piece of work, carry your spouse’s luggage, or unload the clean dishes from the office washing machine. When offering someone help, it’s wise to ensure that your own work and primary responsibilities are taken care of first. This also works the other way around: occasionally asking someone to help you can be a way of showing your appreciation to their skills and abilities.
Not all help is actually helping. When helping someone out, make sure that you work their way, rather than imposing your own style on them. Also, make sure you’re able to complete what you start. If you’re unsure whether you’ll be able to finish the job with them, then communicate that upfront.
Language 4: Tangible Gifts
A 6 % minority of the workforce have tangible or physical gifts as their primary appreciation language, so this simple gesture can go a long way towards making them feel appreciated. If you choose to go this route, then ensure that your gift is meaningful to the recipient. Try to understand what kind of things they are interested in and align your gift with their preferences. This may require quite a bit of background work. I.e. a bouquet of flowers can seem completely ridiculous to some, while others feel genuinely appreciated when receiving one. Tangible gifts don't necessarily need to be expensive. Sometimes a sentimental gift can be even more effective. Sometimes gifts aren’t physical or tangible in nature. A great gift might be some time off to spend a special occasion with family or friends. Whatever means the most to that person will make the best gift.
Language 5: Appropriate Physical Touch
Recently many cultures have grown increasingly cautious about physical touch in the workplace, in order to avoid doing anything that might be perceived as inappropriate. While you should, of course, remain conscious about what’s appropriate in the workplace, it’s encouraged to use appropriate kinds of physical touch to demonstrate that you value and appreciate the contributions of another person.
Physical touch positively affects a person’s sense of acceptance, establishes trust, conveys connectedness, and demonstrates caring. Some generally safe and acceptable forms of physical touch in the workplace include the following:
- High-fives or fist bumps
- A pat on the back or shoulder
- A hand on the shoulder to reinforce a verbal message
That said, there are some people who are not comfortable with any form of physical touch in the workplace, so if they communicate that to you, then be sure to respect their wishes and don’t take it personally.
People have a psychological need to feel appreciated and recognized for their contributions in the workplace, and as such, you should strive to ensure your employees feel recognized and valued. There are five languages of appreciation that you can use to demonstrate that you value your employees, and by doing so, you can improve the happiness of your employees while also increasing their engagement and enhancing their productivity. Remember that communicating appreciation is a skill, and it’s one that everyone can and should learn.
Want to increase the amount of appreciation at your workplace? Teamspective’s feedback tools include a praise feature, and AI that automatically activates people to praise each other regularly. Sign up here to try it out - it’s free for individuals and teams of up to 30 people.