Are you familiar with the 5 Love Languages? It’s a well-known framework that identifies different ways individuals prefer to give and receive love. You can use the five love languages to communicate more effectively with your partners, friends, and family by taking their personal needs into account.
But did you know you can apply these same principles to communicate appreciation and encouragement at work? You can. In fact, it’s critical that you do.
In a moment when almost 60% of employees feel unappreciated at work, your ability to show authentic employee appreciation may be a determining factor in your ability to retain employees and stave off The Great Resignation.
In this post, we explore the 5 languages of appreciation at work as identified by Dr. Paul White, one of our co-authors. Similar in name to the original love languages, they are: Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Tangible Gifts and Appropriate Physical Touch.
When you understand your employees’ preferred language of appreciation, you’ll be able to communicate much more effectively; your message will resonate based on what they value. On the flip side, messages sent in the wrong language can miss the mark entirely, resulting in confusion or indifference rather than appreciation.
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Let’s look at best practices to help you put the 5 languages of appreciation into practice at your organization.
4 guiding principles when showing appreciation in the workplace.
1. Not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways.
The first core principle to understand is that employee appreciation is not one-size-fits-all. We often default to the same one or two actions for everyone—such as sending a quick “thank you” email—because we don’t know or haven’t thought about what other options are available.
2. Words of praise don't work for everyone.
Words (Words of affirmation) are the most commonly used language of appreciation, but over half of employees value different types of appreciation. Your expressions of appreciation could be far more impactful if you matched them to employee preferences.
3. Appreciation isn't just a “top-down” process.
While manager-driven employee recognition is powerful and necessary, it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s everyone’s responsibility to create a culture of appreciation at work. Rather relying solely on your company leaders to power employee appreciation, your organization should create opportunities for peer-to-peer appreciation.
4. Appreciation is most impactful when communicated regularly, delivered personally, and perceived as authentic.
Appreciation at work isn’t about checking an item off on the to-do list. It’s about expressing genuine gratitude and making your employees feel seen, heard, and valued. And the best way to accomplish this is to communicate appreciation in a consistent, personal, and authentic way.
How to put the 5 Languages of Employee Appreciation into practice at work.
Here are several practical examples and strategies to help you bring the languages of appreciation to life in your workplace. If you want to identify your own preferred language or invite your teammates and direct reports to identify theirs, you can do so here.
1) Words of affirmation.
46% of the workforce prefers words of affirmation.
Many of us know the power of a sincere “thank you” note or shout-out from a colleague. According to research from Dr. Paul White, nearly half of employees prefer words of affirmation, which is all about using written or spoken language to celebrate an individual. Here are some tips to help you use words of affirmation in the workplace:
“Good job” isn’t enough. Appreciation and positive feedback is most effective when it’s sincere and specific. One helpful framework is SBI Feedback or Situation-Behavior-Impact Feedback:
- Situation: Describe the situation you're referring to, so that the context is clear and specific.
- Behavior: Discuss the precise behavior that you want to celebrate,
- Impact: Highlight the impact of the person's behavior on you, the team and the organization
In a similar vein as being specific, you’ll want to be timely to make your words of affirmation as impactful as possible. Avoid saving up all your praise for an employee’s annual performance review—instead, share appreciation in real-time so the receiver associates your positive words with their specific actions.
Change up the channel.
Certain employees will be more or less comfortable with receiving public praise. Ask your people what they prefer and adjust the way you share words of affirmation accordingly. You can communicate words of affirmation one-to-one or in public spaces or channels, in-person, over Slack, via email, or even with a handwritten note. The most important thing is to tailor your appreciation to the receiver’s personal needs.
Make use of Employee Recognition and Employee Reward programs (ERP) beyond performance review time.
With a formal employee recognition program or ERP, you can boost the impact of your words of affirmation by attaching them to a reward. You can build a program on your own terms that might not include a reward for everyday appreciation, but that offers flexibility beyond a yearly bonus linked to an annual review.
How Blueboard can help:
With Blueboard, you can pair words of affirmation with one-of-a-kind experiential rewards. Using our platform, you can add a personal note to every reward you send. We also arm our clients with branded cards for handwritten messages from the manager or team—a special touch when presenting an experiential reward to your employee.
2) Quality time.
26% of the workforce prefers quality time.
Quality time in the workplace is all about receiving someone’s complete and focused attention. In today’s world of hybrid work, this can be a truly meaningful way for employees to feel appreciated. Here are a few ways to infuse quality time into your day-to-day work:
Make space for mentorship.
Learning and development is a top priority for today’s workers, especially younger workers. For employees who value quality time, having dedicated time to connect with and learn from their coworkers can be hugely impactful. Whether they’re gaining technical expertise or general lessons from senior leaders, or getting tips and guidance from teammates with different areas of expertise, formal and informal mentorship offers an avenue for quality time.
Check in meaningfully.
Checking in with your employees on a recurring, consistent basis is a best practice whether or not they value quality time. But this space is particularly important for those who do value quality time. For these folks, that one-on-one time where they receive your undivided attention is essential.
You also have an opportunity to show appreciation outside of your direct reports by checking in with your peers. This can be as simple as asking “how was your weekend” before asking for whatever that thing is that you need, or as dedicated as reaching out to a coworker having a tough time with an offer to hop on a call and just listen.
Expand team meetings beyond status updates.
Weekly team meetings are generally dedicated to status reports and team alignment. But by extending the scope of these meetings with a simple question, like “Is there anything else anyone wants to talk about?”, you can create space for employees to raise concerns, share suggestions, and comment on topics beyond their to-do task list.
Create moments for teammates to connect.
In a recent study on the state of workplace connection, we found that just 38% of employees feel that their organization is effective at helping them build authentic relationships with coworkers and managers.
In this era of uncertainty, it’s critical to facilitate opportunities for connection. This can be a balance of more formal spaces—like an onboarding lunch for a new teammate or a recurring team happy hour—and more flexible spaces—like a dedicated monthly budget for fun, team-driven activities of a donut-date program.
How Blueboard can help:
The gift of quality time can be even more impactful when it’s quality time outside of work. Blueboard empowers companies to appreciate and reward employees with experiences that offer adventure, learning, growth, rest, restoration—experiences employees can share with the people that matter to them.
One of our clients, The Trade Desk (TTD), uses their anniversary recognition program to give employees the opportunity to spend quality time with their loved ones. It’s the company’s way of expressing authentic gratitude for all the hard work, energy, and dedication their team invests in their business. And it works: 98% of Blueboard recipients at TTD report feeling appreciated for giving their time to the organization.
3) Acts of service.
22% of the workforce prefers acts of service.
This appreciation language is all about performing small acts that can support, unblock, or simply bring more joy to someone’s day. Check out these tips to incorporate more acts of service in your workplace relationships:
Take one for the team.
No matter how exciting a job or project is, there are always menial (but critical) tasks that nobody wants to do: sending “close-the-loop” communications, adding tasks to your task management system, taking notes during alignment meetings, etc. Consider creating processes that split these types of tasks evenly between team members, or shift tasks that are particularly demotivating for one person to another person who finds them energizing.
Sometimes, an act of service at work looks like volunteering to take on a menial task for a teammate because you have the bandwidth and they need the support. Simple as that.
Service comes in small acts, too.
Whether it’s picking up an extra coffee for a busy coworker, or providing dinner for team members working extended hours, small but thoughtful gestures can have a major impact because they acknowledge an employee’s hard work and show that you care about their wellbeing.
Be attentive to needs at all seniority levels.
In most industries (and particularly high-growth industries), there are times when an employee’s workload is out of balance. Do your best to stay tuned in to the people around you, including your direct reports, your peers, and even your boss. When someone—anyone—is underwater and you have bandwidth to check in and possibly take something off of their plate, do it. The goal is to create a culture of service.
How Blueboard can help.
One way to create a culture of service is to recognize and reward thoughtful acts of service. With a Blueboard spot awards and recognition program, for example, you can instantly reward any employee for any type of contribution. So when someone goes above and beyond to support their team, you can reward them with a private flying lesson, a pasta-making class with friends, or a family trip to Disneyland.
4) Tangible gifts.
6% of the workforce prefers tangible gifts.
Tangible gifts shouldn't be confused with raises or bonuses. This language of appreciation is all about sharing gifts that reflect your employees' or colleagues' interests, passions, and preferences. Here are some tips for gift-giving in the workplace:
Get personal with employee gifts.
The key to giving gifts is to understand your employees' wants and needs. Get curious, ask questions, and start conversations with the people you work with. Understanding how they enjoy spending their time, or even what their favorite treat is, can help you choose a meaningful gift.
Give the gift of time off.
According to research from the Incentive Research Foundation, nearly half of employees rank getting a paid day off in their top three preferred types of recognition. And counter to the myth that more time off means less productivity, paid time off can greatly boost job satisfaction and long-term motivation.
If you’re a manager or a team lead, consider giving your employees a day off as a gift. Encourage your people to spend their extra time doing whatever fills their cup—whether that’s a family activity, treating themselves to a nice meal, or getting their favorite workout in.
Reward milestone achievements.
Every employee journey has key milestones. Every project has key milestones. Make these milestones opportunities to celebrate with tangible employee gifts. Attach these gifts to your employee’s individual contributions or to your team’s collective success. And make sure to show your people how their work is impacting the organization’s broader business goals.
How Blueboard can help:
A lot of organizations rely on cash bonuses or gift cards when it comes to employee gifts. But at Blueboard, we offer experiential employee rewards (like dining at a Michelin star restaurant, enjoying an in-home sommelier experience, or chasing the Northern Lights) that are more memorable, personal, and shareable.
Experiential gifts help you achieve long-term engagement results. They boost connection with coworkers, create lasting memories, and result in photos and videos that get the rest of the organization excited to earn their own rewards.
5) Appropriate physical touch.
The smallest population group, less than 1% of the workforce, prefers physical touch.
While physical touch is the least popular of the 5 Languages of Appreciation, it’s still essential to understand how to appropriately utilize it in the workplace—even more so during the pandemic. Follow these guidelines for using physical touch:
Everyone’s levels of comfort differ when it comes to physical touch. You may love hugs from colleagues, while others may prefer high-fives. Either way, you should never assume that a coworker shares your preferences. Always ask before initiating any physical touch.
Boundaries need to be respected. If someone asks not to be touched, don’t take it personally. Instead, lean into your compassion and understand that they have reasons for not wanting physical interactions with their coworkers—whether that’s due to negative experiences, cultural differences, or personal preferences.
Take the time to understand which of these 5 Languages of Appreciation resonate with your employees. With this knowledge in hand, you can communicate with your team in more meaningful, impactful, and positive ways, and tailor your employee appreciation so it truly resonates.
If you’re curious to learn how Blueboard can support your employee appreciation efforts, schedule some time to connect with our team.
About our Guest Author:
Dr. Paul White is an author, speaker and psychologist, who helps “make work relationships work”. He is the coauthor withDr. Gary Chapman of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, which has sold over 500,000 books. For more information and best practices for communicating authentic appreciation, visit www.appreciationatwork.com.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2017. It has been updated to reflect current workplace realities in 2022.