More Than Words… Expressing Thanks at Work

Can you remember the last time you felt recognized or appreciated by your boss? Hopefully it was today or sometime recently! However, broad studies by Gallup say that 20–30% of workers in the US rarely get recognition or that their best work is ignored. A more industry-specific study put the number at a staggering 70%! Managers, this is your time to shine. Employee recognition is easy to learn and doesn’t require a big budget.

You may be asking yourself, “Shouldn’t people just be glad to have a job?” Or, “Why should I thank people for doing simple tasks?” Well, there are two reasons—employee recognition is not only good for us psychologically as individuals but also for your company’s bottom line. When a business builds a culture around showing employees they are valued, the business benefits in tangible ways, including lower turnover, more productive and engaged employees and higher customer satisfaction.

With a bit of knowledge about your direct reports, you’ll be able to choose the right way of expressing thanks so that it resonates deeply. According to Drs. Gary Chapman and Paul White, there are several common “languages” or methods for expressing appreciation toward your coworkers. Four of these languages of workplace appreciation are Words of Affirmation, Tangible Gifts, Acts of Service and Quality Time.

Every person has a primary and a secondary appreciation language. Both are highly effective nurturing tools. The other two languages have little effect or can even cause a negative reaction. While these are great tools for managers, here’s a little secret: the languages remain the same regardless of where you and your coworker sit on the org chart. Once you know someone’s appreciation languages, you can also be more impactful with your boss, peers and others.

Let’s dive into these languages of appreciation:

Words of Affirmation

Nearly half of employees cite this as their primary language. Keep in mind, however, that many people don’t like being the center of attention in a large group. Private encouragement may be the better route in many cases.

Tangible Gifts

While the least preferred language for nearly 70% of employees, Tangible Gifts result in a meaningful, positive experience for some employees. It doesn’t always have to be a large, expensive item. Often candy or swag from a conference is all it takes. But use your judgment wisely—the gift should be appropriate for the level of recognition. That candy might be great for a well-prepared project kickoff meeting but a poor fit for landing a new multimillion-dollar contract.

Acts of Service

People who value this language light up when others pitch in on a tough project, help with phone and computer problems or stay after-hours with them to finish an important project. Your direct reports also feel valued when you recognize their resource requirements and ensure they have what they need.

Quality Time

Spending time with their boss, talking about the things they care about—and truly having a listening ear—is what makes many employees feel truly appreciated. They know how busy you are, which is why it means so much when you value someone enough to share dedicated time together. If you’re inundated with meetings, look for other opportunities like lunch or coffee.

How do you learn which languages will resonate the most with the people you manage and others in your office? Pay attention to how they thank others. People tend to use their top two languages when they show appreciation for others. Or try this quick online assessment that can identify your employee’s primary and secondary languages, their least effective language and specific forms of recognition they would value.

If a hefty dose of appreciation is good for the bottom line, then why not give these ideas a try? Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says: “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” Managers, this is your time. Starting today, you can do good for your business and make the world a happier, better place. So, what are you waiting for?