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The Language of Appreciation

After a frustrating workday, I came home and described to my partner an encounter I had. “It’s like he’s saying ‘yadda, yadda’ and I’m saying ‘yidda, yidda’ and we’re stuck! We just can’t seem to get on the same page.” Sound familiar? Employees and employers often find themselves stuck in a loop of miscommunication, struggling to feel heard and, more importantly, appreciated.

Positive acknowledgment and appreciation are often a top priority for employees, contributing to a stronger workplace culture and employee retention. But many know that what works well for one may not work for another. While one employee appreciates a vocalized ‘job well done’, another may feel immensely appreciated through a firm handshake.

In 2007, Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, extended his scope to the workplace and wrote The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People. Similar to the love languages, Chapman outlined the various ways we can appreciate someone at work based on their unique needs.

In addition to the book, there are assessments online that can help identify ways to connect more meaningfully with your employees. One that we like can be found here.

Below, we have outlined some of the ways that you can appeal to the different languages of your employees. It is important to remember, that like love languages and True Colors, an individual may be “bilingual” and speak two primary languages of appreciation.

Quality Time

Quality time is more than having a one-on-one conversation. It means focusing on the individual, while not interrupting, and having a meaningful and positive discussion. Creating authentic moments for quality time can also be accomplished through organizing staff appreciation events and celebrating accomplishments.


The importance of the gift is not about the cost or extravagance of the present. Rather, it is a demonstration of thought and consideration. A simple act of picking up a coffee or giving tickets to a local performance to recognize a milestone in the employee’s personal or professional life would be an impactful way of saying they matter.

Acts of Service

In the workplace, this could translate to helping with a project or assisting with research. However, according to Chapman, there are certain conditions that need to be met in order to have a positive effect. You need to ask the person if they need assistance, ensure you are completing the task in the way that they would prefer, and be upfront about the time you have available to assist.

Words of Affirmation

Things such as praising an employee and complimenting them on a successful project or a clever solution to a problem can go far with the right person. There is very little difference if you verbally praise the person versus over text or email, but it would be good to mix it up.

Physical Touch

If COVID-19 weren’t a thing, this language of appreciation would best be addressed with fist bumps, high fives, and pats on the back. Obviously, with the pandemic, this appreciation language may be harder to accomplish but don’t fear – look for other solutions. Take time out of your day to do a quick Zoom call, send a virtual high five, or share a funny GIF. For those that feel most seen when you get a hand on the shoulder congratulating them on a job well done, you can show appreciation by singling them out to commend a job well done.

During this time, there are fewer opportunities for meaningful connections between employers and employees. By taking the time to understand each employee and properly use the languages of appreciation, there can be a direct impact on the employee’s happiness and mental health and the long-term success of the company. Get rid of the ‘yadda yadda’ and get straight to the ‘yeah yeah yeah.’

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