What the 5 Languages of Appreciation Can Teach You About Retaining Top Talent

by | Jun 29, 2022

Darcy Luoma is one of America’s most highly credentialed coaches. She’s worked in 48 industries, with more than 500 organizations, and has impacted tens of thousands of leaders and employees.


According to a recent study, 53% of workers feel unappreciated at work. Yet 83% of managers acknowledge that recognition is critical to work satisfaction.

So why the disconnect?

It might be that your appreciation is getting lost in translation.

We’re not all the same

In 2012, Drs. Gary Chapman and Paul White introduced the concept of the five different ways people feel appreciated in the workplace, which they called the Languages of Appreciation (this was an extension of Chapman’s work on the five Love Languages). Essentially, the book explores how not all employees feel appreciated in the same way. Let’s take a look at each of the five and give you the chance to think about which one is your primary appreciation language.

  1. Words of Affirmation

Someone who values Words of Affirmation is filled up by management sincerely complimenting their work. This can be as simple as a thank you for a job well done for the effort you’re seeing. However, getting specific can have an even bigger impact. For example, instead of simply saying, “Good work on that project!” strive to provide more details like, “I appreciate the time and effort you put into updating the copy on the website. Thank you so much for taking the lead on this. The feedback so far has been wonderful!”

  1. Tangible Gifts

If your employee values gifts, show your gratitude by giving them a present of sorts. For some employees, bagels or any other treat in the breakroom is exactly the praise they are looking for. It could also be as simple as a colleague’s favorite candy bar or piece of fruit left on their desk or flowers sent to their home office to acknowledge a job well done.

  1. Acts of Service

Does your colleague appreciate Acts of Service? This means they’ll be especially grateful when you offer to take something off their plate. If your team member has recently put in extra-long hours to meet an important deadline, why not surprise them by arranging cover for them so they can have a few days off? And for a bonus, you could offer to check their emails while they’re on vacation, so they aren’t quite so behind when they return to the office.

  1. Quality Time

Not too many people are eager to add more meetings to their schedule, but if there’s one meeting that someone who likes Quality Time will appreciate, it’s a one-on-one with their direct manager. It might be that they’re looking for coaching or mentoring. Or maybe going out to lunch together. Think lots of active listening, mutual respect and collective problem-solving. Even better if the manager clears their schedule to ensure they can be truly present and don’t have to rush off at the end of the meeting.

  1. Physical Touch

This is perhaps the hardest one to get right in the workplace. That being said, there are fun ways to connect with a high-five to celebrate the completion of a project, or a fist bump when you close a new deal. Even a handshake or a friendly pat on the back are appreciated gestures for those who have physical touch as their primary appreciation language.

But there’s more

Each of these languages can be broken down even further. Words of affirmation can be shared one-on-one, in front of others, in an email, or via a hand-written note. Quality time might be during work hours in the office or after work at a baseball game or pub. Each might land differently for different employees. What one employee sees as motivating might have the exact opposite effect on others.

So have some fun finding opportunities to build in multiple ways for employees to feel appreciated. For example, a company we worked with had a monthly party for call center employees. Everyone had a chance to network with leaders (quality time) and enjoy snacks (tangible gifts). Call center employees who scored 95% on a certain metric were asked to stand so everyone could clap for them (words of affirmation).

Consider your bias

When we discuss appreciation languages in our training sessions, we consistently see that how people receive appreciation is often their most favored way of showing appreciation. This can be a source of frustration when it feels like your appreciation isn’t being appreciated.

I remember one of my coaching clients brought in doughnuts each Friday as a way of saying thank you to his team for their work that week. He was frustrated because nobody ever acknowledged them or said thank you. After doing some digging, he learned that his employees assumed he just really liked doughnuts. They didn’t see it as recognition of their work because most of his employees’ appreciation language was words of affirmation and quality time.

So he adjusted his approach slightly. Each Friday, he continued to get doughnuts (because, well, he did like them!), but he added a personal note to the box outlining what he wanted to acknowledge and celebrate for that week. He also stayed in the break room an extra 15 minutes so he could casually chat with employees as they stopped by to get a doughnut. It was a small shift, but made a huge difference.One-minute-workout

So the next time you’re feeling like your appreciation is getting lost in translation, try the following core workout:

  • Pause: Notice when your appreciation isn’t quite landing the way you want it to. Give yourself a chance to Pause and course correct.
  • Think: What’s this employee’s Language of Appreciation? If in doubt, ask them!
  • Act: Convey appreciation in a manner that fits their preferences.

As someone whose appreciation language is words of affirmation, I’d love to hear what you thought about this article. Reply to this email or stop by our Thoughtfully Fit OnCore page and let us know what new ideas this sparked for you!

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