Improving Engagement Using the Languages of Appreciation

By Vevaina, Brittney | The Public Manager, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Improving Engagement Using the Languages of Appreciation


Vevaina, Brittney, The Public Manager


Gary Chapman and Paul White, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People (Northfield Publishing, 2011)

A popular business maxim is that an organization's most valuable asset is its people. Consequently, a primary concern for organizations is determining the best way to develop, motivate, and retain a high-quality workforce. Enter appreciation.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace suggests acts of appreciation that managers can use to engage employees. Based on Gary Chapman's New York Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages, Chapman and co-author Paul White apply the love languages concept to the workplace, helping managers and colleagues learn how to effectively express their appreciation.

What Employees Want

In the first chapter, Chapman and White answer the central question: What do employees want the most from their jobs? Clearly, the answer is appreciation. Each of us has a need to be valued and to know that our contributions matter. According to bestselling author Steven Covey, "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."

Unfortunately, only 41.8 percent of federal employees are satisfied with the recognition they receive, according to the Partnership for Public Service's 2014 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings. So, while it may seem straightforward for leaders to thank employees and colleagues, Chapman and White explain that efforts to express appreciation often miss the mark. The most important element of communicating appreciation, say the authors, is ensuring that the acknowledgment is received by the individual.

The Five Languages

We all have communication preferences. By learning our own primary language of appreciation and the languages of our employees, we can ensure that the message gets through.

Chapman and White identify five different languages of appreciation:

* words of affirmation

* quality time

* acts of service

* tangible gifts

* touch.

A chapter is devoted to the exploration of each language, including real stories that detail how the specific language affects an individual in the workplace. For example, the third chapter tells the story of Jim, an outgoing and gregarious salesman who is highly motivated by praise from colleagues. Jim's primary language of appreciation is words of affirmation.

Jim responds to praise for his accomplishments, as well as recognition for positive character traits. For instance, even when his sales are low, Jim's colleagues may still appreciate his perseverance and optimism. So, while employees like Jim may enjoy financial success, they will likely feel unfulfilled without receiving praise and encouragement from their bosses, clients, or colleagues.

Similarly, the chapter that examines the language of quality time explains that these employees appreciate managers who take time to have lunch with them or drop by their office. Chapman and White discuss how quality time may take the form of engaging in conversations or sharing experiences to build relationships and trust--all of which are key components to building strong teams. …

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