Are you familiar with the 5 Love Languages? They're a well-known and effective method for understanding your communication habits with significant others, friends or families, by learning how to give and receive love in a way that's most relevant to their personal needs.
What if you could apply these same principles to how you show love to your coworkers? In this case, how you authentically show appreciation for your employees, for a job well done.
In this post we'll be reviewing the five unique ways of communicating appreciation as identified by Dr. Paul White, our co-author in this blog post. They are: Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Tangible Gifts and Appropriate Physical Touch.
The languages of appreciation are like personality traits - each employee will value a certain language more than another. The most effective communication occurs when the message is delivered in the language most relevant to the receiver. Messages sent in the wrong language can have the opposite effect, resulting in low value, and are generally a waste of time and energy.
Find out your language of appreciation online here. Below we'll walk through best practices when bringing the five appreciation languages into your workplace.
A few guiding principles when showing appreciation in the workplace
The first core principle to understand is that not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways. We often use the same one or two actions for everyone – telling someone “thanks” for their help on a project, or sending them an email. (Part of this is due to a lack of knowledge of what other options are available.)
While everyone likes to be praised, not everyone likes to be praised with words. While words are the most commonly used language of appreciation, over half of employees desire appreciation shown through different means.
Appreciation is not solely a “top-down” process. Many managers already feel overwhelmed with their responsibilities and sometimes react negatively when the topic of communicating appreciation is raised. If you are a manager or supervisor, relax. Showing appreciation to team members is not solely your responsibility. In fact, we have discovered that employees often want to encouragement and support from their peers as much as from managers.
Appreciation is most impactful when communicated regularly, when it’s delivered personally, and is perceived as being authentic. The goal is not to just “go through the motions” or put a “done” checkmark in a box; the goal is to communicate effective and authentic appreciation to those with whom you work.
Here are some practical examples of how authentic appreciation can be communicated in a tech-oriented work setting across each of the five languages of appreciation.
1) Words of Affirmation
“Good job” doesn’t cut it. Be specific - employees want to know exactly what you value about their contributions.
Letting someone know at their semi-annual review what a great job they did on a project three months ago has little impact. Even a brief comment shared immediately after completion can be impactful.
Oral or written.
Many engineers and techies are somewhat introverted and more uncomfortable with social interaction (especially with those they don’t know well). Starting with a written message is often easier than a face-to-face interaction and allows you to open up other opportunities for in-person contact.
Make use of Employee Recognition and Employee Reward programs (ERP) beyond performance review time.
ERPs provide flexible ways for employees to communicate Words of Affirmation beyond performance review time.
How Blueboard can help:
When sending employee rewards, Blueboard’s platform lets you add a personal note and achievement that sends through to the employee via their reward email. You’re also armed with branded notecards for hand-written notes from the manager or team - a great addition when presenting the Blueboard experiential employee reward.
2) Quality Time
Scheduled support from senior teammates or mentors.
Junior engineers and new hires often value time with more senior team members, desiring guidance on how to execute tasks from a technical perspective, but also needing insight around how their work fits into the team's and company's goals. Another great opportunity for buddy- or mentor-matching to more naturally connect these new hires with more seasoned teammates. Here's more on how to foster mentor programs with more senior staff.
Stop by and check-in.
This expression of appreciation is effective for people who are resourceful and work independently. Even though they can execute the task to completion without technical help, they still might have concerns or suggestions they would like to share. Take a few minutes to chat with them personally as well; remember, they are a person and not just a production unit.
If you're a lead who constantly travels, commit to calling your team members while on the road. Or, if you have remote team members, arrange the meetings through video conferencing to connect with them (and check in” with them at a personal level, too).
Let team meetings go beyond status report.
Weekly team meetings are routines in which leads collect individual status reports. If the meeting scope is extended with a simple question - “Is there anything else anyone wants to talk about?”, leads can open the meeting up as a forum for employees to raise concerns, share suggestions, and comment on topics beyond their to-do task list.
Encourage (and model) having team members get together informally.
The simple act of inviting others to do something with you can open unexpected relational interactions. Sometimes it works best to have a suggested act (walk a few blocks away to a new place for lunch), while other times it may work better to ask team members to propose activities – go to a local sporting event, play beach volleyball on a Sunday afternoon, escape and mystery room games, taking a glassblowing class to get the creative juices flowing - the options are endless.
How Blueboard can help:
Quality time can happen outside the office as well, and is crucial to employees achieving a strong work/life balance. Blueboard offers the gift of creative exploration, discovery, or much-needed “me time”, through experiential gifts for employees like family getaways, foodie tours, music lessons, and more. The majority of Blueboard experiences are for the employee and a +1, allowing the employee to bond and share memories with family or friends, or even invite their favorite co-worker to join them.
3) Acts of Service
Handle menial tasks in rotating or all-hands-on-deck mode.
No matter how exciting a project is, there are always menial tasks involved. For example, bug fixing and software code integration might be less appealing tasks than coding a new feature from scratch, yet they are important and need to be done in a timely manner. Instead of assigning such tasks to junior engineers, occasionally volunteer to complete one yourself.
Think low-key expressions of Acts of Service.
Acts of Service can be simple actions like picking up lunch for a busy co-worker who is in the lab debugging a critical customer issue. If you lead a project that has the financial resources, provide food for engineers working extended hours during the week and on the weekends.
Be attentive to needs at all seniority levels.
Task priorities quickly change in the fast-paced high-tech industry and workload among employees can get out of balance from time to time. Make it a habit to notice the needs of others who work under you, who are your peers, and your own boss. Simple check-ins can do wonders here.
4) Tangible Gifts
Gift of time off.
It is common for engineers to work late nights and weekends preceding a project release. In my team, we have an informal agreement with our managers and other leads for a flexible schedule in the week following a release, to allow engineers personal time to recharge.
Celebrate milestone achievements.
Technical orgs are centered around milestones - sprints, launches, feature releases. Take these opportunities to gather the team for a celebration (informally gathering as a group, or formally over an event, experience or dinner out). Take a moment to note each person’s contributions and how collectively the team achieved success. Lastly, important to note the impact their work had on the organization’s broader business goals.
How Blueboard can help:
Forget transactional cash and gift cards, reward employees with an experience. Experiential employee rewards are more memorable, personal and shareable, helping you achieve long-term engagement results. Unlike monetary gifts, experiences are exciting and comfortable to talk about (helping to bond coworkers), create lasting memories (that only get better over time), and provide opportunities for employees to capture exciting photos and videos of their adventures (broadening employee recognition's visibility company-wide).
5) Appropriate Physical Touch
What it looks like at work:
Obviously, physical touch in the workplace is a sensitive subject and personal boundaries need to be respected. A few ways employees are often comfortable with appreciation shown physically: a high five when a project is completed, a fist bump after fixing a coding bug, or a congratulatory handshake when a significant sale is made.
Understanding personal, regional (the Deep South vs. NYC), and cultural differences is key, but appropriate physical touch can be deeply meaningful - for example, a female colleague whose mother had passed away was offered a hug from a male colleague, which she consented to and felt comforted at a time when no words worked. Reading the situation carefully and showing physical appreciation in an authentic way should set you up for success.
All employees (whether direct reports, managers or CEOs) want to be valued for the contributions they make. Unfortunately, most team members actually don’t feel appreciated (63% claim that they don’t get enough praise).
Learning what form of appreciation your colleagues prefer is relatively easy. And once you know how your team prefers to communicate, a little appreciation goes a long way to encourage those around you. Working together to apply the concept of authentic appreciation across your team can be a fun task to pursue together.
About our Guest Authors:
Ana Pazos is currently working as a Senior Staff Compiler Engineer Technical Lead at Qualcomm Innovation Center, Inc. She has a Ph.D. in Computer Science and 15+ years of industry experience in dynamic and static compiler technology, operating systems and multimedia frameworks.
Dr. Paul White is an author, speaker and psychologist, who helps “make work relationships work”. He is the coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman and his new book, The Vibrant Workplace, has just released and is available online and in stores. For more information and best practices for workplace application, visit www.appreciationatwork.com.