Boost Workplace Happiness: Harnessing the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

Claire Hastwell

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CLAIRE HASTWELL

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Employee recognition is not a one-size-fits-all. The five languages of appreciation in the workplace help managers inspire great performance and retain top talent.

The first step to forging a valuable working relationship between employees and creating a culture of recognition is learning each other’s primary language of appreciation. If you can express genuine appreciation for a co-worker’s specific contribution or how their actions reflect company values, you’ll increase loyalty, improve employee experience and cut down staff turnover. 

This topic is explored at length by author Gary Chapman in “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” Chapman is widely known for his seminal work, “The Five Love Languages,” which examines how different personality types give and receive love. His follow-up book, co-written with psychologist Paul White, discusses how managers can effectively show appreciation and encouragement for their employees. 

How to express appreciation in the workplace

Authentic appreciation is individual. One employee may welcome an invitation to a football game, whereas another might favor a simple — but specific — word or note of thanks. Which of the five languages of appreciation you choose to express should depend on what people prefer.

Employee recognition vs. employee appreciation

Recognition and appreciation in the workplace overlap, but they are not identical. Recognition is typically tied to performance and can lead to promotions and pay raises. Appreciation is broader and not as formal as recognition; it may even serve as encouragement for a struggling employee. You can express appreciation for an employee embodying company values or for a singular act that benefited the organization. 

Consider these two scenarios: 

  1. Global recognition: A high-ranking boss delivers “thank you for your service” remarks to a group of workers who’ve gathered to celebrate career milestones. They eat cake and compare matching gifts. It’s a happy occasion, but not very personalized.
  2. Individual and authentic appreciation: A manager asks if they can have a 10-minute check-in with a direct report and provides positive feedback. She thanks them for the long hours and creative thinking on a tight budget that led to the success of a major project they just wrapped. 

Formally recognizing employees for their achievements and tenure will always be welcome in the workplace. But regularly expressing enough appreciation in a casual manner is an accessible and direct way to make your staff feel valued. 

Global praise and generic gifts can’t compare to sincere, precise actions that promote a more positive work environment and instill a sense of workplace pride and ownership. 

Identifying another person’s language of appreciation

Recognize your co-workers and their individual efforts, character traits, and personal motivations. Tailor your appreciation language to suit each person in appropriate ways with these two steps: 

  1. Observe. Consider how your co-workers express genuine appreciation to others, whether it’s through words of praise or a thoughtfully selected gift. Often, how someone treats another person is exactly how they’d like to receive appreciation. An individual can benefit from different languages of appreciation as well, not just one.
  2. Listen attentively. Work backwards by noting what people complain about. It could be lack of facetime with a superior or the need for extra help under a looming deadline. 

Global praise and generic gifts can’t compare to sincere, precise actions that promote a more positive work environment, and instill a sense of pride and ownership. 

What are the five languages of appreciation in the workplace?

1. Words of affirmation

These can be verbal or written. Whichever approach you take, be as specific as possible. A generic “good job” won’t be as compelling or effective as taking the time to compliment a certain skill set or action. Maybe an employee’s quick thinking last Tuesday saved your company thousands of dollars. Perhaps a staffer’s savvy networking helped hook a lucrative new client. Some employees prefer words of praise, but first know your audience: 

  • Verbal affirmations can take place on a stage in front of hundreds or in a one-on-one meeting. Some employees may welcome positive remarks in front of their co-workers, while other people prefer a quick, low-key mention in passing. 
  • Written affirmations also are an effective way of showing appreciation. But again, consider how you relay the message, and whether the recipient prefers public or private compliments. A handwritten note can deliver more impact than an everyday email. These notes don’t have to be long — just honest and personalized. 

2. Quality time

This means giving a colleague your undivided attention. Encouraging people can be as straightforward as showing up for them, truly listening, and affirming their feelings. Even your body language — when open and responsive — can convey interest and support. 

You can give your time in many ways, including:

  • Sharing a meal or drink 
  • Going on walking breaks during the day 
  • Holding small group sessions to hear your employees’ concerns 
  • Hosting a volunteer day where co-workers gather for community service and giving activities 
  • Inviting employees to a fun, off-site problem-solving activity 

3. Acts of service

If you see a co-worker buckling under an immense workload, should you offer a coffee mug or your assistance? Many workers don’t want another calendar or tote bag with the company logo. They don’t crave praise, either. They simply want to see others working as hard as them or pitching in as needed. 

But first, ask if they want your help. Don’t assume, because that could be misinterpreted in a negative way. Play detective to see what work needs completion. Avoid doing a task that gives you the limelight. Perhaps you could make copies, send follow-up emails, or schedule a meeting while your colleague updates the CEO. 

Whatever you do, stay positive and follow through. This is key. If you offer to help, do so in a timely manner. 

4. Gifts

If your co-workers appreciate tangible gifts, make sure you personalize them. Take extra effort to note their interests in your day-to-day conversations. Issue company-wide surveys to each employee to learn about their favorite foods, interests, and activities or outings. 

In remote workplaces, where it can be especially challenging to get to know one another, have your staff complete a questionnaire that gives you a glimpse into their hobbies and passions, pet peeves, and favorite music/movies/shows/books. Giving generic gifts can be perceived as wasteful and thoughtless, so keep a log of ideas. Your presents don’t need to be lavish, just tailored. 

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • An employee loves coffee, especially from the independent shop down the block. Instead of emailing them a Starbucks gift card, make an effort to grab one from their preferred cafe. 
  • A co-worker is running ragged between work and family duties. They’ve commented on how difficult it is to get dinner on the table. Gift a meal-kit subscription or prepared meal that just needs reheating. 
  • An inexpensive yet thoughtful token of employee appreciation can be in the form of a favorite treat. It shows you’ve been paying attention. 

5. Physical touch

In Gary Chapman’s first book on appreciation, “The Five Love Languages,” physical touch is a logical expression of love between family or friends. But this is the thorniest of the five languages of appreciation in the workplace. 

Appropriate physical touch in the office depends on HR guidelines and the recipient’s own feelings. Do not touch anyone who does not want to be touched — no exceptions. 

For colleagues who do feel valued by appropriate physical touch, it’s critical to respect boundaries. Handshakes, fist bumps, and high-fives are typically acceptable. Showing genuine appreciation with these brief but uplifting acts can go a long way in expressing your gratitude. 

Physical touch shouldn’t be the primary way you show appreciation in the workplace, but a pat on the shoulder doesn’t have to be forbidden, either. 

The five languages of appreciation in the workplace don’t just apply to managers and their direct reports. Anyone at any level can express appreciation to and for co-workers. Peer-to-peer appreciation can even carry more weight and points to a strong company culture of inclusion, support, and work relationships. 

Know what culture initiatives are moving the needle

Great Place To Work® Certification™ helps you build and maintain a positive workplace culture. Gauge how your employees are doing and feeling at this moment through our comprehensive employee surveys and data analysis. Learn exactly where you should direct your finite resources to boost employee engagement and staff morale during good times and bad times. Learn about earning Certification today. 

Claire Hastwell

As the Content Program Manager at Great Place To Work, Claire helps decode the psychology behind high-trust workplaces using Great Place To Work’s extensive data repository on employee experience. Claire has co-authored noted reports such as “Women in the Workplace” and “The Power of Purpose at Work,” and contributed to Fortune with her profiles of the Best Workplaces™. Her latest report on employee retention strategies draws on the experience of 1.3 million employees to give leaders strategic guidance on retaining their top people. 

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Singapore 2023 Evaluation Methodology

This year, Great Place To Work® Singapore is proud to launch our inaugural Singapore Best Workplaces™ in Healthcare & Biopharma List. This list recognizes exemplary companies in the healthcare & biopharma industry.

Recognized as a global hub for medical technology and research, Singapore has attracted top healthcare and biopharma talents and companies from around the world. It has become the center for essential healthcare services and innovations with its world-class research institutes, academic medical centers, and industry clusters.

In turn, the healthcare and biopharma sectors play a critical role in the country’s economic competitiveness, sustainability, and innovation. These industries have significantly helped in the overall improvement of public health and well-being of the people of Singapore and its neighboring countries.

The inaugural Singapore Best Workplaces in Healthcare and Biopharma List puts the spotlight on the organizations that are dedicated to providing employee satisfaction and engagement, and their commitment to excellence in the industry.

The companies in our Great Place To Work Certified™ community have the premier distinction that helps attract the best talent, build your employer brand, and secure a competitive advantage. To achieve this, they built a working environment that is purpose-driven and people-first. These companies have demonstrated that showing authentic care, prioritizing employee’s holistic well-being, and building a culture of trust go hand in hand with growth and success.

To determine the 2023 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Healthcare and Biopharma, Great Place to Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore.Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place to Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place to Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry.The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced.To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place to Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place to Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category.

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Singapore 2023 Evaluation Methodology

To determine the 2023 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Technology, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore. Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place To Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry. The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category.

Methodology

This year, Great Place To Work™ Singapore is proud to launch our inaugural Singapore Best Workplaces in Technology List. This List recognizes exemplary companies in the information and communication technologies industry in four categories:

  • Micro category (10–29 employees)
  • Small (30-99 employees)
  • Medium (100-999 employees)
  • Large (> 1000 employees)

With Singapore’s ambition to be recognized as a regional technology hub, the influx of technology firms (around 80 of the world’s top 100 technology firms have a presence here) and global rankings that place us a leading technology hub outside of San Francisco, the establishment of a Singapore Best Workplaces List in Technology is indeed a timely and needed one. Technology firms in Singapore are characterized by hyper-growth and ambitious expansion plans. This means a continuous war for talent in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving industry.

To maintain our lead as a technology and innovation hub, the ability to attract, retain and sustain skilled talent is critical. We are proud that companies in our Great Place To Work®-Certified community List have built a high-trust culture, engaged employees and maximized their potential to facilitate innovation. They are purpose-driven and adopt a people-first mindset. These are companies that have shown that authentic care and employee well-being need not be compromised for ambitious growth, and that it is possible for businesses to scale up quickly and responsibly. Their culture and core values are embodied in every individual—from senior leadership to rank-and-file employees—and differentiate them from their competitors, priming them to be powerful magnets for top talent.

To determine the 2022 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Technology, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore.Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place To Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry.The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category

 

Methodology

To determine the 2022 Singapore’s Best Workplaces™️, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing close to 70,000 employees across different industries in Singapore. Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place to Work For All™️. 85% of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do.

Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical in their industry. The remaining 15% of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Companies with 10-29 people were considered for the Micro category; those with 30 to 99 people for the Small category; companies with 100 to 999 employees were considered for the Medium category; and those with 1,000 or more for the Large category.

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Singapore 2023 Evaluation Methodology

To determine the 2023 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Technology, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore. Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place To Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry. The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category