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Though every manager wants their team members to feel valued, in reality, we’re not so great at achieving it. Just as each manager shows appreciation in their own way, each employee responds to gestures of appreciation differently. When the preferences don't align, both managers and their team members suffer.
Fifteen years after Dr. Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” changed how the world understood and expressed affection, he joined forces with Dr. Paul White to produce “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace”.
The categories break down into Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts, and even Physical Touch. How these ideas correlate to the workplace is not always obvious. Dr. White - who is both a psychologist and a leadership trainer - provides a run-through for how to understand each language and apply them in your organization.
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
Almost half of the workplace - 46% - prefers words of affirmation as their primary language of appreciation. In order for words to be meaningful, they must be specific. Few people feel satisfied with a vague “good job”. Use the person's name, reference the specific action or character quality you value, and share why it's important to you. For example, “Becky, thanks for showing up early today to help get ready for this meeting. It was much less stressful knowing I didn't have to rush doing it all myself.”
Words of affirmation don’t need to be spoken in person; writing a handwritten note or sending an email or text are also valued. Not surprisingly, there is a generational gap in preference; while handwritten notes are still a big deal for baby boomers, the younger generations find digital thankyou notes just as wonderful. Instead of waiting for a formal review, send a quick email or text within 24 to 48 hours after a presentation or performance. The timeliness makes those words particularly meaningful.
Quality time is all about focused attention. People who prefer quality time want to feel included. Often, simple gestures such as going out to lunch together or the occasional non-work check in just to see how they’re doing satisfy their desire. For some, especially younger employees, receiving one-on-one attention with their manager or coworkers to be able to ask questions or share observations is particularly valued.
In addition, receiving flex time or comp time to recharge after people have worked on a long, hard project can be tremendously appreciated. While it's not quality time in a traditional sense, it allows for quality time with friends and family outside of work, enabling individuals to replenish.
The beautiful thing about quality time is that it doesn't need to take a lot of time.
Remote workers, due to the nature of operating virtually, have some different needs. While words are still the top preference for remote employees, they also report increased desires for quality time. Specifically, remote employees desire connecting on a personal level by video conference. Build in time during video calls to talk about non-work issues. Without this added time for personal connection, the experience can become very task-oriented and remote team members may feel disconnected.
ACTS OF SERVICE
People who prefer acts of service appreciate being helped. This does not mean swooping in and taking over work, or rescuing a low-performing colleague. Instead, they want help getting things done, especially during stressful times. This could include making sure they’re not interrupted when taking a call, offering to complete some tasks so they can stay focused on their higher priorities, or adding sharing your expertise which helps them work more effectively or achieve better results.
Those who feel appreciated through tangible gifts don’t need benefits, raises, or bonuses to feel valued. Rather, it’s about the small things that show you're getting to know them on a personal level. This could include bringing them their preferred caffeinated beverage one morning or giving them a magazine that features their favorite sports team or a hobby that you know they're exploring. These gifts do not need to be costly or extravagant. What matters is that they demonstrate you’ve thoughtfully selected this gift because it’s relevant to this particular person.
Physical contact in the workplace is complicated to say the least. We need to be careful in respecting physical boundaries. Plus, every region and culture has distinct comfort levels and ways they express appreciation physically.
Luckily, less than 1% of the population identifies physical touch as their primary appreciation language. To safely satisfy physical touch, consider gestures such as a spontaneous fist bump when you solve a problem, a congratulatory handshake when you land a big contract, or a high five when you finish a big project you've been working on. Other key elements to expressing appreciation through touch includes greeting teammates with good eye contact, a warm smile, and warmth in your voice. Even virtually, these things go a long way. A virtual fist pump or high five at a team meeting can be funny, but effective.
SHOW APPRECIATION THAT IS APPRECIATED
Many organizations try to use awards to encourage their employees. The problem with solely relying on recognition rewards is that it’s not personal, it's about performance. Appreciation isn’t just about what an employee does but who they are. While public recognition may generate enthusiasm for completing jobs, it doesn’t leave employees feeling deeply valued. Consider showing appreciation for personal characteristics that have nothing to do with productivity, such as cheerfulness or sense of humor.
Feeling valued is essential to building community, creativity, and productivity. While investing in understanding the various needs of your staff may feel like extra work for managers, in the end, the payoffs outweigh the effort.
If you’re looking to understand your own workplace language preference, or the preference of your staff, Dr. White developed an online assessment tool on his site email@example.com. Get the assessment and report for free when you join The Modern Manager community at www.mamieks.com/join.
KEEP UP WITH PAUL
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Twitter: @5Appreciation and @drpaulwhite