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What Makes Employees Tick?

Understanding what motivates employees is essential to a positive, productive workplace. When people are affirmed in a way that is satisfying for them, they typically have better quality output and a greater sense of loyalty, both at work and elsewhere.

As explained in The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman and Paul White, there are five languages of appreciation in the workplace: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts, and Physical Touch. While each type of appreciation has a variety of expressions, the basic tenets of each, along with some examples, are listed below:

  • Words of Affirmation: Praise for accomplishments, affirmation of character, and/or praise of personality traits (Examples include: A personal note or public recognition at a team-wide meeting).
  • Quality Time: Quality conversation, small group dialogue, and/or shared experiences (Examples include: Ten minutes of one-on-one conversation with an employee without distractions or going bowling with the team).
  • Acts of Service: Voluntarily offering to help a fellow employee, doing it their way, and completing it on time (Examples include: Clearing the snow off of a fellow employee’s car before they leave work for the day or offering to help with a project they are behind on).
  • Tangible Gifts: Giving a gift that the person receiving it values (Examples include: Tickets to a game for a team an employee really enjoys or an item an employee would like, but is unlikely to ever purchase for themselves).
  • Physical Touch: Affirming, nonsexual touches, when appropriate (Examples include: a firm handshake, pat on the back or a high five). Please note that this language of appreciation should be used with caution and is the least popular of the ways to show appreciation at work.

Often times, people choose to show appreciation, either to their supervisor, direct reports or co-workers, in a way that they like receiving appreciation.  While logic understands this, it is not always the way appreciation works.  For example, a boss may be generous with gifts of free lunch and coffee, but all his employee actually wants is ten minutes of his undivided attention for a quality conversation.  For an employee who values quality time, all the free coffee in the world would not replace the chance to connect in meaningful dialogue. Conversely, another employee may feel most appreciated when given all the java he or she could ever want!

When appreciation is shown in a way that the recipient truly values, employee engagement, retention, and morale – to name a few – are higher.

To learn more about how appreciation can be shown at work, please contact us at or 810-534-0170.

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