5 Ways to Express Appreciation in the Workplace

  • August 14, 2018
  • Antique Nguyen
  • Approx. Read Time: 4 Minutes
  • Updated on March 26, 2024

Workplace appreciation is inarguably one of the most important drivers of a positive and engaging work environment. All of us thrive in an atmosphere where appreciation is well regarded. In fact, experts say the lack of recognition is the key reason why employees quit their jobs. Not only does the lack of appreciation affect job satisfaction and staff retention, but it also impacts the organization’s bottom line.

In the book “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White both discuss five ways to effectively express appreciation to those we work with every day. Although we accept appreciation in many forms, we’re not truly encouraged unless the message is communicated through our preferred languages—which is characterized as our primary and secondary language. When messages are sent repeatedly in ways that are outside of those languages, the intent of the message misses the mark and loses its value.

In order to empower and encourage teams to perform their best, managers, supervisors and team leaders must evaluate the following five languages of appreciation and consider which approach is most valued to the receiving individual.

1. Words of Affirmation

This language focuses on affirming others through written and spoken words such as praise for accomplishments and recognizing positive character traits. Here are a few simple tips that can make the use of words more effective in showing appreciation to your fellow colleagues:

    • Be personal and individualized;
    • The more specific you can be, the better; and
    • Describe why their action is important to you and the organization.

However, understanding the preferred context in which you affirm someone is equally important. The most common settings include one-on-one, public acknowledgment and written affirmation. Knowing the preference of the person being honored is imperative.

2. Quality Time

The most common belief is that appreciation is communicated verbally. While using words is one effective way to show your staff you value them, many employees actually prefer appreciation through the language of Quality Time. This involves offering your time by giving a colleague your focused attention or working collaboratively with them. Many of us work closely with our colleagues every day; however, the key element to Quality Time is not proximity, but rather personal attention. Quality conversations mean that you’re seeking to create a safe environment in which you not only share accomplishments, but you share suggestions and frustrations as well. Here’s some advice to consider:

    • Maintain eye contact;
    • Avoid doing other things while listening;
    • Listen for feeling as well as thoughts;
    • Affirm their feelings even if you disagree with the conclusions;
    • Observe body language; and
    • Resist the impulse to interrupt.

Quality Time is quite different from Words of Affirmation. Affirming words focuses on what we’re saying, while quality conversation focuses more on what we’re hearing.

3. Acts of Service

For this group, the saying “actions speak louder than words” rings true. Their “don’t just tell me you care; show me you care” mentality proves that providing assistance is a powerful expression of appreciation. Some suggestions for how to serve effectively include:

    • Ask before you help;
    • Serve voluntarily; 
    • Check your attitude;
    • Clarify how they want you to do it;
    • Complete what you start.

If their language of appreciation is Acts of Service, but you’re not sure what action would be most meaningful to them, simply ask, “Is there anything I can do to make your work easier?” Their answer will help provide insight on how you can most effectively express appreciation to that particular individual.

4. Tangible Gifts

Organizations, large and small, often provide thoughtful, non-monetary Tangible Gifts as a means to say thank you for a job well done. These rewards often come in the form of tickets to a sporting event or concert, gift cards to a restaurant, or even “comp time off” for those extra hours put into completing a big project. Though this is a great gesture of gratitude, there are two things to consider for Tangible Gifts to be truly successful:

  1. Give gifts to individuals who truly appreciate them; and
  2. Offer gifts that the person values.

The latter can be challenging; however, when you can give the right gift to the right person, it can send a powerful message of thanks, appreciation and encouragement.

5. Physical Touch

Even before the rise of the #MeToo movement, Physical Touch was already viewed as a sensitive form of appreciation in the workplace. While most people prefer the aforementioned four languages, there are a few who value and see the significance of touch. There are two ways Physical Touch can be described:

  1. Implicit touches are often subtle, transitionary and given without thought such as a congratulatory handshake, high five, fist bump or even a pat on the shoulder.
  2. Explicit touches normally require more thought and time. For example, an extended handshake while saying, “I really appreciate what you did; I will not forget the work you poured into this task” may well communicate your appreciation to a person who values Physical Touch.

An individual’s view of what is appropriate and inappropriate in the workplace will differ greatly from person to person. It’s important to learn from the person we are interacting with what he or she perceives as an affirming touch. One non-verbal cue you can watch for is stiffening or withdrawing when touched. Of course, the surest way to find out is to ask.

Again, there’s simply no one-size-fits-all solution. What may motivate you to perform your best may not motivate others around you. It’s critical to understand that employees will only feel appreciated when it’s through the form that means most to them; in a way that is personal and individualized; when it’s communicated regularly; and in a manner that’s perceived as genuine and authentic. 

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