I came across a book this week, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. It’s co-written by Dr. Paul White with Dr. Gary Chapman (author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages).

The description on the jacket says that this book aims to help supervisors and managerseffectively 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.

It’s an easy book to read, that explains how different people like to receive appreciation in different ways. Although some may consider this fairly obvious, the value that this book gives is that the 5 Languages of Appreciation approach is intuitive, easy to remember and easy to implement.

So many organisations have a blanket approach to recognition: everyone who receives a nomination for recognition gets the same award, for example a certificate with exactly the same wording (apart from the name) and gift. Managers and HR professionals probably assume that their employees will love the certificate and the gift but, if they investigated deeper, they might find that the certificates go un-displayed and the gift remains unused, or is even given away!

The truth is that we need to learn to appreciate our employees in the language that speaks to them the most. We need to recognise what motivates the people we work with, so that we can show them appreciation in a way that means something to them.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

Words of Affirmation: a thank you note, email, call, or face to face conversation to thank them for their efforts, but make it immediate.

Quality Time: regular, focused time with a manager each week, to share their progress or concerns, ask questions, or help plan their career and personal development.

Acts of Service: small acts that we can do to help make another person’s day, such as making a coffee, or asking if they need help on a project.

Tangible Gifts: small gifts that show you know what people like, such as a latte from their favourite coffee shop, or some complimentary time off.

Physical Touch: A congratulatory handshake or similar, however you need to be very careful with this one!

Are your employees or co-workers motivated by words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, tangible gifts, or physical touch like a high five? Have you ever asked them?

We all have our own individual preferences. Some people, myself included, are over the moon when someone tells them, and the rest of the organisation, that they’ve done a great job on a project. However, this can be “just words” to another person, who would be more motivated by having their manager “get their hands dirty” and help out on a project.

Understanding what motivates people, and how to show your appreciation, is dependent on our communication skills. It’s an incredibly important skill to have, especially if you’re responsible for managing a team. Communicating should be easy to do. We’re taught as children how to talk and listen, but often we’re so busy doing our day to day jobs that we forget to spend time communicating with our team and co-workers.

We need to communicate our appreciation in a personal way, in a timely manner, that describes specifically what that person has done, and is in the language of appreciation that is valued by that individual. Only then will we really motivate our employees and co-workers, and create a more meaningful and productive work environment.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.