I remember the day my husband came home from work ecstatically happy because his boss of seven years told him “Good job!” for the first time – ever. I was happy that he received recognition in front of his co-workers. At the same time, I realized that seven years is too long to go without recognition or thanks for a job well done. My husband’s experience is all too common in the workplace, where 70% of workers report they receive no praise or appreciation1.
Thanksgiving, which is a major U.S. holiday in November, is a time to practice gratitude. Although it is mainly a family holiday, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to express appreciation to your team at work. Did you realize that each of your co-workers have particular preferences for how to give and receive gratitude? We each have a preferred language of appreciation, according to Gary Chapman and Paul White, authors of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
Appreciation, or expressing gratitude, to employees and co-workers is vital to growing a vibrant company culture. Who doesn’t want to be thanked for doing a good job? Surprisingly, each individual on your team desires to be thanked in a preferred way or “language” of receiving appreciation. Using a non-preferred method of appreciation will not be impactful, and you’ll wonder why. Just like people have different personality types, so do they have appreciation preferences.
What are the different languages of appreciation?
1. Words of Affirmation: Some employees prefer verbal acknowledgements of their good behaviors and accomplishments. A simple “thank you” is often a valuable reward to these people. Make sure you follow up with specifics of what you appreciate about what they have done. You might say, “Thank you for handling that customer so well – you know, the one who was yelling at you and making demands. You handled that with grace and, at the same time, firmness. Good job!” This verbal acknowledgement goes a long way towards recognizing people who value words of affirmation.
2. Acts of Service: These are behaviors that express gratitude, such as helping out a co-worker when they are having a rough time, volunteering to work on a project, carrying supplies for someone or fixing a co-worker’s computer issue. These are the gestures that go above and beyond what is normally expected in a situation.
3. Receiving Gifts: Some people prefer receiving physical tokens of appreciation, such as a turkey at Thanksgiving, a bonus check or a recognition gift. Some outside companies provide catalogs of gifts that a manager can order to recognize her team members, or that can be redeemed with coupons received as recognition. Other companies recognize employees by giving them gift cards. I was once appreciated by a boss who told me to expense one night in a five-star hotel during a vacation with my husband in London.
4. Quality Time: Other individuals deeply desire one-on- one attention as a way to receive
appreciation. These folks want regular check-in meetings with their manager, a lunch together with team members, or special help from a co-worker with a project. Email messages usually do not satisfy these people, who prefer a more personal and focused form of communication about your appreciation.
5. Physical Touch: This language carries a degree of risk in the workplace, especially given the rash of sexual harassment complaints highlighted in the media recently. What’s OK in almost any situation is a high-five, a literal pat on the back, or a handshake to congratulate someone on a job well done. If there is any question in your mind about the appropriateness of touch, do not do it. If you are a man, be especially reticent to touch any female co-worker.
How do you know which language your employees prefer? When you buy the book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White, you get a registration code for taking the Motivating by Appreciation inventory. You might purchase a copy of the book for each member of your team and ask them to take the online inventory or, you can purchase access to the inventory here.
You can also experiment with different ways to appreciate your employees and then notice how they react. To test the language of Quality time, for example, you could take each team member separately to lunch. Then notice their behavior in the office subsequently. Do they thank you afterwards? Do they talk about it to their co-workers? Do they mention it in meetings? And, simply ask them after the lunch if this was a good way for you to express appreciation for their efforts. Do likewise for the other languages of appreciation: experiment, notice their reactions, and ask for feedback. Note what seems to work best for each team member.
Make November “Employee Appreciation Month”
Just like personality and communication styles, each member of your team has preferences for receiving appreciation. Why don’t you cover all bases by expressing appreciation to your team using all 5 languages? All of these could be your language this month.
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