Languages of Appreciation: Acts of Service

Saying “Thanks for doing a great job” is easy; sometimes it’s too easy.  For some workers, demonstrating that you care is about pitching in to help.  You can usually spot these people, because they’ll frequently be found pitching in to help others.

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.

When acts of service are the language of appreciation that you value, you show others how much you care by doing things.  I understand this language well; it’s the language I use in my personal and professional relationships.  When I borrow my husband’s car for the day, I fill it up with gas and get it washed.   When I see a staff member struggling with a task, I pitch in.  I usually don’t just offer to pitch in – I grab a pile of paper and start sorting. (It’s not called acts of lip service, after all.)

It’s not always easy to perform acts of service, especially if you’re the boss.  Many workers will not accept your help.  Maybe they think you’re incompetent (it could happen) but more likely, they feel funny about having you do something nice for them or do their work – it seems to upset the natural order of things.  I experienced this firsthand a few years ago.  I had hired a new assistant who was expected to start on Monday.  On Friday, I started to clean the desk she’d be using and stock it with supplies.  No fewer than three staff members stopped me – they literally took the dust cloth out of my hands and finished the job for me.  It took me a while to figure out why I felt so strange about the incident.  Now I recognize that I was cheated out of my preferred way to show the new assistant how grateful I was for her help – by performing an act of service.

You don’t always need to pitch in and help with a task ; you can perform acts of service in other ways.  Bring in food or coffee for a team that is working late; offer to help reach an item on a high shelf for a short teammate.  But there are some rules that Chapman and White suggest you follow to be effective at acts of service.

First, make sure your own work is under control before offering to help others.  If you miss a deadline, your boss won’t care if you helped the whole team.  You’re responsible for your own work first and foremost.  The authors suggest that you do ask first before pitching in – and that you ask how the person wants the work done.  If you do it wrong (or not to their standards) you may cause more harm than good – they won’t be happy if they have to work late to repair all your “help.”  

And for goodness sake, always finish what you start.  The only thing worse than not being willing to pitch in is to take an assignment and then not do it.  You can cause more stress, ruin relationships and damage your own reputation.   If acts of service are not your strong suit, look for another language to express your appreciation.

6 thoughts on “Languages of Appreciation: Acts of Service

  1. I know your assistant very much appreciated what you did for her. Thank you for this post. When you show appreciation with acts of service, both the giver and receiver feel good and things get done. It’s a win-win and a great message to share.


  2. Candace, something additional about acts of service I hear from workers is that a lot of people initially say they don’t want help (because they don’t want others to mess up their piles). But once they are convinced part of the condition for being helped is that the work will be done their way, they become a lot more willing (and even excited) to get assistance! Paul White, PhD

    thanks for blogging about the book!


  3. […] @work: a career blog A WorkSource blog about getting and keeping a job « Languages of Appreciation: Acts of Service […]


  4. Careers Plus Resumes…

    […]Languages of Appreciation: Acts of Service « @work: a career blog[…]…


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