Leveraging Languages of Appreciation at Work for Leaders

An icon of hands clapping, which represents praise for an employee, a love language at work for some.

As a manager, you know your team is the most important asset to your business. They are the ones who make your company run day-to-day and successful each year—and they deserve to be recognized and appreciated for their hard work. One way to acknowledge their contributions at work in a way that will mean the most to them is to use the Languages of Appreciation.

If you’re familiar with the 5 Love Languages, this is a workplace spin on them, featuring five different ways that colleagues and leaders can express and receive appreciation. And, like those love languages, they include:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Research from Gary Chapman and Paul White, the architects of the concept, explains the importance of employee engagement and the impact it has.

”The level of employee engagement within a workplace is important to leaders because it has been shown to be highly predictive of numerous positive benefits that impact the functioning and financial viability if a company,” explain Chapman and White in their book.

Acknowledging Your Team’s Hard Work

Appreciating your employees is one of the best things you can do as a manager. Like the love languages, each person has a different primary language of appreciation. Some people may feel most appreciated when you tell them they did a good job, while others may prefer that you do something nice for them, like buy them a gift card or take them to lunch.

It’s important to figure out what your employees’ primary languages of appreciation at work are so you can show them appreciation in a way that will resonate with them.

Spoiler Alert: Money May Not Be the Best Motivator

Chapman and White’s study of 1 million employees (about the population of Delaware) shows evidence that employees are looking for more than cash rewards. If you’ve ever said “they couldn’t pay me enough to stay here” when quitting a job, this may not surprise you.

But these stats might:

  • 89% of managers believe that employees leave for more money
  • 12% of employees report leaving for a higher salary—88% cite other reasons

Appreciation vs. Attrition

While 68% of employees say their boss shows them enough appreciation, more than half (53%) of employees said they’d stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss according to a study from Glassdoor. In fact, 81% of employees in that same survey said they’re motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work.

  • 79% of employees who leave their jobs voluntarily cite lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving
  • 66% of current employees report they would quit if they felt unappreciated

How Do I Know My Language of Appreciation?

To determine which Language speaks to you at work, the authors have crafted the Motivating by Appreciation Inventory (MBA Inventory) tool.

A note here about physical touch, because even the book’s authors acknowledge it has some challenges. In their research, they also found this was rarely anyone’s primary language of appreciation in the workplace and was often the least important for most respondents.

How does physical touch show up safely in the workplace? It can be as simple as a high five, firm handshake, or a literal pat on the back, but as workplace norms shift, this should be approached with respect for the individual—it’s their boundaries that matter most.

“It is critical to remember that the recipient is always the authority on what is acceptable physical touch,” explain Chapman and White.

For managers who lead someone who values physical touch, perhaps the gift of a professional foot massage or facial may be an option.

Tips to Use Languages of Appreciation at Work

Determine your employees’ primary languages of appreciation.

You can do this by asking them directly, or by observing their behavior, or having them take the MBA Inventory. For example, if someone always seems to light up when you tell them they did a good job, that’s a good indication that words of affirmation are their primary language of appreciation.

I purchased the books for our team to review—access to the MBA Inventory is included with each copy. Once everyone had taken that quiz, we scheduled an hour for us to review the results and see where everyone landed.

Use the languages of appreciation regularly.

Don’t just save your appreciation for special occasions or big successes. Make an effort to show your appreciation on a regular basis, even if it’s just a small gesture or word of thanks. I try to make time to regularly thank my team for their efforts as often as weekly. Sometimes that means a quick call out of something great they did, other times it’s a Starbucks gift card to have coffee on me during a hectic week.

Be sincere in your appreciation.

Your employees can tell when you’re not being genuine, so make sure your appreciation is sincere.

Related: Building Confidence at Work: 14 Tips

Be specific in your appreciation.

Don’t just say “nice work.” Get specific about what they did that you appreciate. Use the opportunity to reinforce behaviors, actions, or approaches that worked well and can be replicated for future success.

Use their preferred method of appreciation.

Yes, many of us like to have our work appreciated verbally and in front of the big bosses at a company, but that’s not true of everyone. Does your employee prefer private praise over a public spotlight? Would they rather have the afternoon off to enjoy the time away from the office rather than a gift card to a store? Find out what they prefer and make an effort to appreciate them in a way that will resonate most.

Recognize your employees’ accomplishments.

When your employees do something good, be sure to recognize their accomplishment. This could be something as simple as saying “thank you” or giving them a public shout-out.

Celebrate big successes—and small wins.

When your employees achieve a goal, celebrate their success! This could be something as simple as taking them out to lunch or giving them a small gift. But don’t forget to honor the little moments or victories that they worked to achieve!

Acknowledging hard work and success is important to managing a team well—and perhaps even preventing future turnover. It shows your team that you value their contribution, and it makes them feel good about themselves. When your employees feel appreciated, they are more likely to be engaged in their work, and they are more likely to stay with your company.