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The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know

Guest Post by Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder, Workology

Managers have the most influence on the engagement and productivity levels within an organization. A Gallup poll of more one million employed U.S. workers reports that the number one reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. In fact, 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses and not the position itself. When it comes to retention and employee engagement, managers must know that they are the strongest influencers of employee health within your organization.

What’s the Single Most Important Employee Engagement Driver? 

So how do you improve your management skills to improve the happiness of your team members? There’s (neuro)science behind it. Harvard researchers discovered that the single highest driver of employee engagement is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their well-being. Less than 40 percent of workers felt so engaged.

And a survey by OfficeTeam found that nearly 50% of workers would leave their jobs if they didn’t feel appreciated by their managers.

Behavioral psychology is key to learning how to communicate appreciation in a business relationship. But let’s start with relationships in general: Dr. Gary Chapman’s best selling marriage and relationship advice book, The 5 Love Languages, doesn’t immediately seem like advice for the workplace, but the principles work. So well, in fact, that he wrote another in the series on the 5 “languages of appreciation” that managers can use to better connect with their employees. Chapman’s book helps supervisors and managers effectively communicate appreciation and encouragement to their employees, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction, healthier relationships between managers and employees, and decreased cases of burnout.

The 5 Languages of Employee Appreciation and Engagement 

The 5 languages of appreciation as applied to employee retention and engagement are:

  1. The language of affirmation.

Affirmation means positive verbal or written expressions of appreciation, as well as recognition. A study in Psychology Today found that 83% of participants found recognition for contributions more fulfilling and meaningful than a reward or gift. Managers can acknowledge a high performer publicly in all-hands or team meetings, in an all company email, or by writing them a note (yes, handwritten) to say thank you.

  1. The language of service.

Being a good leader means not asking your team members to anything you’re not willing to do yourself. You’re part of the team, not above it. Going above and beyond your required duties can show your team members that you value them, as well as communicate that you’re a colleague, not a dictator. Offer to help with a tight deadline, ask your team what they need to do their jobs, provide it, or even be the person who runs out to pick up lunch. You don’t have to say you’re on their level to be there.

  1. The language of quality time.

Setting aside quality time without interruptions (i.e. when you’re not multitasking by checking your phone or email) is an underrated gesture of appreciation. By sitting down with a team member and having a face-to-face interaction while you’re not scrolling on your phone, giving them your full attention, communicates to the employee that they’re important to you, their work is important to you, their happiness is important to you. Give them the opportunity to speak, ask engaging questions, and keep your attention focused on what they’re telling you. People want to know that they’re heard.

  1. The language of gifts.

For some employees, gifts of money or time are the most effective ways to express appreciation. Ever heard “don’t thank me; pay me?” According to the results of an employee appreciation survey by Harris Interactive and Glassdoor, 75% of employees say receiving a pay raise is a valuable form of showing appreciation, while 46% say they would enjoy unexpected treats and rewards such as snacks, lunches, and dinners. Consider offering in-office gifts to recognize a job well done. These can be tied to specific goals, or just randomly presented as a gesture of appreciation either publicly during an all-hands meeting or casually over your team member’s schedule one on one meeting.

  1. Physical touch.

You can connect with your coworkers and celebrate their achievements through touch like a high-five, fist bump, handshake or simply checking in on your team members from time to time with a face-to-face conversation, without asking about project deadlines, asking questions that show you are listening.

Give all five of the languages of appreciation a try. You might not see a change in engagement levels of your teams overnight, but your improved employee retention and satisfaction rates over time might just surprise you.


Jessica Miller-Merrell, is workplace change agent, speaker, and author focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer. She’s the founder of Workology. Follow her on Twitter, @jmillermerrell.

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