Applauz Blog

Applauz Book Club : 5 Languages of Appreciation in The Workplace

Published: April 27, 2021

  7 min read

By: Michelle Cadieux

In this instalment of Applauz Book Club, we summarize ideas from Gary Chapman and Paul White's book The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

📖Applauz Book Club is a series that outlines noteworthy ideas from popular books on the topics of work, HR strategy, and management. To see last month’s Applauz Book Club article, click here.

Think about the standard ways your company gives recognition to employees.

Maybe company managers are given a budget to buy the occasional celebratory lunch or gift cards for a popular coffee shop.

While these gestures are thoughtful, the problem with these recognition practices is that they say nothing to employees about why they are unique or valuable. In short, there’s no personalization. Not to mention, some employees may dread attending a social event. Or they might not particularly enjoy the coffee shop, so that gift card is most likely to end up in a junk drawer.

Bottom line: your company is potentially wasting time and money on recognition practices that don’t resonate with employees at all. And at worse, these tactics could be generating cynicism and negativity among employees because they don’t make employees feel genuinely valued.

When thank you isn’t enough

I know what you're probably thinking. "Coming up with ways to reward employees is already time-consuming. How could we possibly tailor appreciation to every person?"

The authors of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in The Workplace don't want companies to get rid of gift cards or celebratory lunches. They, first off, want HR leaders to take the time to understand what types of rewards employees prefer. HR can do this by speaking with or surveying employees. Because when companies fail to talk to employees, the recognition actions they choose can often miss the mark.

And second, the authors assert that organizationally-driven recognition systems are often disconnected from how most employees want to be appreciated.

In other words, gift cards are nice. Still, they should not substitute the thoughtful and individualized forms of recognition that should be happening on the front lines every day. 

What motivates employees are gestures of appreciation that speak to them on an emotional level. And as a result, these gestures make employees feel deeply valued as workers, but most importantly, as human beings.

bigstock-Two-Focused-Diverse-Business-C-390604661The 5 Languages of Appreciation in The Workplace

In The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Gary Chapman and workplace expert Paul White write about how any business (or individual) can learn how to give rich, meaningful appreciation. The type of appreciation that deeply motivates and engages people for the long term.

You might recognize Paul White’s name as we reference his work a lot. After all, he is the authority on recognition and appreciation in the Workplace. We even wrote a summary of another one of his books The Vibrant Workplace.

Through candid interviews and accounts from their own experiences as HR consultants, the book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace explores the ways employees prefer to receive appreciation at work. And what these findings imply for HR and management professionals.

Whether you're a business owner, manager or HR professional, White and Chapman's book will help you understand and answer some of the following questions:

  • Why just saying “thank you” at work isn’t always enough.
  • Common misconceptions leaders have about appreciation.
  • Common problems with traditional forms of employee recognition.
  • How to determine your employees’ appreciation languages.

With this knowledge, you will be in a better position to accomplish the following:

  • As an HR professional, audit your current recognition systems to ensure they speak to employee’s appreciation needs.
  • As an HR professional, build a company-wide recognition program that resonates with employees.
  • As a manager, understand the difference between average recognition and genuine appreciation.
  • As a manager, learn to give tailored and meaningful employee appreciation that actually motivates employees.

By applying the ideas in this book, the recognition shared by your company or managers won’t feel generic or shallow — leaving employees discouraged and cynical.

Instead, recognition will have depth. It will therefore feel highly impactful and energizing. Naturally, your company will profit from a happier, more productive, and engaged workforce.

What Employees Want the Most

The authors start their book by talking about what employees want the most— genuine appreciation. This idea is so intuitive it seems trite to mention.

Employees want to feel appreciated, of course!

We all know this truth. Yet, what the authors have found in their experiences as consultants is that many businesses fail to meet this basic need — resulting in low company morale and engagement.

Bottom line: The need to feel seen, appreciated, and valued is deeply human. And without genuine appreciation in the workplace, employees’ motivation and morale quickly begin to suffer.  

As the authors put it, “each of us wants to know what we are doing matters. Without a sense of being valued by supervisors and colleagues, workers start to feel like a machine or a commodity.”

Many businesses and managers are aware of the importance of appreciation. As a result, they develop company-wide recognition practices like giving gift cards, and team lunches mentioned at the top of this article. 

Still, many companies don’t do a good job at providing individual recognition. Which is what employees crave the most. 

Appreciation: A low cost / high impact investment

The authors continue to explain why communicating genuine appreciation to employees is so crucial. They also outline the misconceptions leaders have that might be holding their businesses back.

First, many leaders may view appreciation as something “touchy-feely.” In other words, “work is about getting things done; I don’t care how people feel about it.” Unfortunately, this false belief holds many businesses back from benefiting from workplace appreciation, such as enjoying higher employee morale and engagement.

A second false belief from leaders is that “certain types of career groups and occupations are more receptive to appreciation than others.” 

However, in the author’s experience as consultants, they found this not to be the case.

In other words, the need to feel valued and appreciated transcends all industries and professions.

The authors present evidence to illustrate the strong positive connection between appreciation and employee engagement across industries.

“The degree to which employees feel appreciated is one of the core factors Gallup researchers found to impact the level of employee engagement in organizations.”

The authors then start to dive deeper and describe the core idea of their book — the five languages of appreciation.

bigstock-Half-Length-Shot-Of-Optimistic-392608007Learn to Speak Your Employees’ Appreciation Language

The authors explain that even when managers try to prioritize recognition, they need to understand how each employee prefers to receive appreciation.

This is because “each person has a primary and secondary language of appreciation.”  And unless a manager or colleague expresses appreciation in our primary language, “we will not feel truly valued.”

For example, if an employee receives public praise from a manager but feels completely embarrassed by it. They prefer if a manager showed their appreciation by lending a helping hand with a difficult task behind the scenes. That type of gesture would speak volumes to them because "acts of service" is their primary appreciation language. 

That said, the five appreciation language are:

  • Words of affirmation: This means giving positive words of appreciation to employees. This type of praise is rich and meaningful. In other words, it highlights not only an employee’s work performance but also the employee’s character and personality.

  • Quality time: Showing an employee that you value them by giving them your time can speak volumes for many employees. This also means giving your employees your focused attention and quality conversation.

  • Acts of Service: Some employees feel highly appreciated when others roll up their sleeves to lighten their workload. In other words, “when others reach out to help, they feel appreciated.”

  • Tangible Gifts: This appreciation language is straightforward; however, it’s important to remember that a gift should be personalized and reflect what an employee enjoys.

  • Physical Touch: At work, there are appropriate displays of physical touch that are acceptable expressions of appreciation, such as a firm handshake, a high five, or a pat on the back. 

In the middle portion of the book, the authors outline each appreciation language in greater detail. They give anecdotal stories and examples of actual employees who reflect on meaningful gestures of appreciation they’ve received in the past.

These examples help illustrate what each appreciation language looks like in action. So readers can, in turn, can apply them to their workplace.

But knowing about the five languages is just the first step.

To build better recognition practices, ones that speak to employees’ unique appreciation languages, you have to understand how employees want to be appreciated.  The authors explore this idea in the second half of the book.

Discovering your preferred appreciation language

At this point in the book, the authors address an important question: how can I determine my employees’ appreciation language?

Before rushing to figure that out, the authors urge readers to learn about their own appreciation language.

They assert, "being able to apply the languages of appreciation to work relationships first requires identifying your language of appreciation."

The authors developed a questionnaire to do this; it's called The MBA Inventory. You can take the MBA Inventory online here (it takes about 10 minutes) with the registration code that comes with the book or by purchasing a registration code. 

After taking the assessment, the website generates a full PDF report.

The report outlines the primary and secondary appreciation language of the person who took the assessment and other valuable information.

If you're the manager of a team, asking employees to fill out the MBA Inventory online is a fun and practical exercise. It would be helpful to you as a manager and your entire team, so co-workers will understand how they can best support and recognize each other!

Common problems with workplace recognition

Suppose you've taken the MBA Inventory or, better yet, asked your employees to take it as well. In that case, it should give you the insight to offer meaningful appreciation to your employees. The kind of appreciation that deeply motivates them.

That said, the authors dedicate the last portion of the book to discussing the common pitfalls of traditional recognition.

The goal of the authors in covering this topic is not to be negative. Instead, this information should help companies spot common traps they may be falling into, effectively enabling them to save time and money in the long run!

For instance, the authors have found that most recognition programs simply aren't reaching their full potential. And worse, employees have developed a cynical attitude towards these programs. 

Why such a negative reaction?

What they found is that most recognition programs only celebrate the length of service, otherwise known as work anniversaries. 

Celebrating work anniversaries is not the problem. It's the fact that these celebrations happen so rarely. Most employees won't even make it to their first milestone, usually the 5-year mark in a work anniversary program.  

Not to mention, the most frequent rewards given are "certificates or plaques." Ultimately, the celebrations are not personalized, and everyone gets the same reward. Making these celebrations feel generic and superficial.

The authors don't dwell too long on the problem. They also present solutions by providing HR professionals with concrete ideas and tactics to apply so that recognition programs hit the mark. And most importantly, they produce the desired results HR is looking for, which is happier, more engaged employees.

In the final chapters of the book, other important topics are explored in greater detail such as appreciation within remote teams, generational differences in recognition, appreciation in different work settings. 

This remainder of the book is packed full of useful information for both HR and company leaders who want to understand how to maximize the impact of recognition and appreciation in the workplace. And to dive into the details of what it means to build a rich culture of recognition.

Final Thoughts

There is no magic formula for recognition-giving at work.

Even after reading this, HR should continue to support the celebration of work anniversaries, birthdays, and other big work achievements.

However, HR professionals and managers should never forget that these formal practices have a major drawback. They are infrequent and rarely personalized. 

Even if workers enjoy receiving an award or an anniversary gift, these celebrations won't speak to employees on a deeper level unless followed by personalized recognition. 

In short, offering sweeping "thank yous" is just one piece of the appreciation puzzle. What employees also crave is personalized recognition in their appreciation language.

When employees regularly receive meaningful appreciation from their managers,  leaders will see the kind of energy that only comes from feeling genuinely valued and appreciated.

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A Happier Workplace


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