Gary Chapman and Paul White are the authors of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Their book discusses why appreciation is one of the most important elements of employee motivation and satisfaction. That sounds elementary, and perhaps it is. Everyone, after all, wants workers to feel appreciated. The art is in figuring out how to make an individual feel it; the same kind of appreciation can have very different effects on different people. Over the next few posts, we’ll discuss the five “languages” of appreciation that Chapman and White examine.
They’re based on the Five Love Languages that Dr. Chapman developed as a marriage counseling tool. The five languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. In the workplace, Dr. Chapman and Mr. White take these concepts and apply them to office relationships. The authors say that appreciation is one of the most common reasons people leave their jobs, and it costs employers millions of dollars each year in recruiting, training and lost productivity. In a recent research project by the U.S. Department of Labor, 64% of workers said that they left a job because they did not feel appreciated.
Chapman and White say that understanding what “language” your team members speak is essential to keeping them motivated and happy. If you’re very, very thirsty, they say, and someone offers you a seat to sit down, no matter how genuine the gesture is, you’re not going to appreciate it. You needed a glass of water, not a chair. It sounds so simple when you think in physical terms, and we’re much more open about what our bodies need than what our emotions tell us. “I’m hungry,” “I’m exhausted; I could use a nap,” or “I’m dying for another cup of coffee” lets the people we’re close to know exactly what would make us happy. But we’re somehow shy about saying to our boss: “I love it when you sit down with me and share what you think about the future of the company.”
Add to that that most of us practice the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That gives many people a blind spot when it comes to appreciation. Because I don’t thrive on public praise, I don’t think to offer it to others. If you’re an introvert, being singled out in front of the whole company is excruciating, not motivating. If you’re not the touch-feely type, your teammate’s shoulder pats are annoying, and do nothing to make you feel appreciated for finishing the report early.
We all “speak our own language,” according to the authors. And we’ve almost all had times when we felt unappreciated on the job. But we may not have taken the time to think about what would make us feel appreciated. Is it that your coworker never says “thank you” out loud? Or is it that your boss never takes the time to sit down with you and discuss strategy? Understanding what you mean by “expressing appreciation” (your primary language) may help you look for signals from your employees and peers about what works for them. Look for posts on each of the Languages of Appreciation in future posts.