On a scale of 1-5, how appreciated do you feel by your manager? How about your colleagues? If your answer is a 5, then you probably enjoy going to work each day and strive to contribute in a meaningful way.
However, if you don’t feel appreciated, then you may just be going through the motions or have even started considering other employment options.
A 2021 Gallup survey found that 15% of US workers are actively disengaged. “They may be generally satisfied but are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace; they will usually show up to work and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer,” according to Gallup.
Steven Covey, author of the bestselling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, feels so strongly about people’s need for appreciation that he states: “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”
In his book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace Dr. Paul White notes, “Each of us wants to know that what we are doing matters. Without a sense of being valued by supervisors and colleagues, workers start to feel like a machine or a commodity.”
The number one factor in job satisfaction is feeling appreciated and valued for the work we do. A Glassdoor survey found four out of five employees (81%) say they are “motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work.”
Appreciation is the antidote to employee disengagement. It is also an integral part of the foundation for performance acceleration and growth. So if we know this, why are so many leaders missing the mark when it comes to appreciation in the workplace?
Dr. White explains that authentic appreciation “communicates a sense of respect and value for the person and helps create healthy workplace relationships.” The challenge? There are many different ways to communicate respect and value to others. The most effective communication of appreciation and encouragement occurs when the message is sent in the language of appreciation most valued by the receiver. Otherwise, it will miss the mark.
Working closely with Gary Chapman, the NY Times Best Selling author of The Five Love Languages, Dr. White began researching how the five love languages might apply to work-based relationships. Similar to love languages, appreciation languages are different for each person. What makes one person feel appreciated does not necessarily make another person feel appreciated.
In the workplace, words are the most common form of appreciation. You can communicate words of affirmation with:
Praise for accomplishments
Affirmation of character/personality
For verbal praise to be effective, it needs to be specific. For example, you might say,” John, I liked the way you delivered that presentation. Your points were well thought-out and your delivery was enthusiastic and engaging.”
Affirming someone’s positive character traits means that you look beyond their accomplishments and focus on the inner nature of the person. Character traits are things like honesty, self-discipline, perseverance, compassion, integrity, patience, humility, kindness and unselfishness.
For example, you might say, “Amy, you are a really compassionate person. I noticed the way you respond to clients who are frustrated. You sincerely want to help them. You take the time to listen and fully understand their issue. I admire you for that.”
Or “Cindy, one of the things I admire about you is that you are so optimistic. Even in the midst of change, you find the bright spot and focus on that. It inspires me.”
Verbally affirming personality traits validates a person and encourages them to play to their strengths. Consider personality traits like:
By calling attention to someone’s positive character or personality trait, you show respect and admiration for them as a person, not just for their performance.
Be sure to consider the best way to deliver your Words of Affirmation by considering the recipient. Would it be more meaningful to them if you did it in front of others or one-on-one? Would a handwritten note or email work best? It all depends on the individual. Watch for cues and deliver your Words of Affirmation accordingly.
Think about the last time someone took the time to share words of affirmation with you. If your appreciation language is words of affirmation, it probably made your day.
Some people need individual time and attention to feel appreciated. A little time can go a long way in making them feel valued and connected. Focused attention is one of the most important aspects of Quality Time. Multi-tasking while talking to someone does not communicate genuine interest in spending time with them. Quality Time involves giving someone your full attention, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Another form of Quality Time is quality conversation: dialogue between two individuals where they share their thoughts, feelings and concerns in a friendly, uninterrupted context. This environment creates a safe space where one feels comfortable sharing their accomplishments, frustrations and suggestions. This can be accomplished with a phone call check-in, a video call or face-to-face meeting.
A third example of Quality Time is shared experiences. For some employees, sharing experiences with their manager or colleagues is how they feel connected and encouraged. Perhaps it’s working together on a project, attending a group retreat, or going to lunch together.
When Quality Time is an individual’s primary appreciation language, he or she will thrive when they receive time with those they value.
Acts of service is about pitching in to help get things done. Showing your willingness to serve others is a great way to provide encouragement.
If you know your colleague’s primary appreciation language is Acts of Service, ask, “Is there anything I could do for you that would make your job easier this week?” Surprisingly, the most frequent answer to this question for office employees is – get my computer to work correctly. Perhaps you can’t fix it yourself, but you can engage someone who can!
You can miss the mark, though, with Acts of Service if you fail to help out your employee in a way that is meaningful to them. Be sure to ask how they would like you to help.
Tangible Gifts involve offering thoughtful gifts to those who appreciate them. It shows that you are getting to know them personally and what they enjoy. It’s not important what you spend, but that it is personal to the recipient. It’s the thought that counts.
Examples of Tangible Gifts include gift cards, magazines and books, tickets to events and flex time (leave early, come in late, comp time). The most common type of Tangible Gift is food.
Surprisingly, Tangible Gifts is the least chosen language of appreciation. Only 6% of employees choose it as their primary language of appreciation.
When giving a gift to someone whose primary language of appreciation is Tangible Gifts, remember to choose a gift you know they would appreciate to show you are getting to know them and that you took the time and effort to think about what they would enjoy.
Physical Touch is a much less valued (and more sensitive) form of appreciation compared to the other 4 languages, but can still be relevant in the workplace.
Touch is controversial. However, it can communicate a sense of trust, connectedness and caring. Observe how people in your workplace interact physically. Do they high-five? Fist bump? Shake hands (probably not so much anymore)?
Effective appreciation and recognition must be tailored and delivered personally, and must be relevant and valuable to the individual. Unless we express our appreciation in others’ primary language, we “miss the mark” and fail to meet their deepest needs for appreciation.
The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace is a must-read for any leader who wants their employees to feel valued and appreciated. It offers practical actions that anyone can use in their workplace to demonstrate meaningful appreciation.
As a certified Appreciation at Work facilitator, I offer live and virtual Appreciation in the Workplace sessions for teams that include the assessment, Motivation by Appreciation.
If you are ready to create a workplace culture that attracts, retains, and promotes the growth of its people, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the Appreciation at Work program.