Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Almost 70 percent of people in U.S. say they receive no praise or recognition in the workplace.
Now, for the good news: Agencies and organizations can take proactive measures to foster a culture of positivity to ensure their employees feel affirmed and motivated to kick some PR butt.
About 10 years ago, I read the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, a New York Times best-seller centered on the concept that everyone has a primary “love language” for receiving appreciation.
I found the book pretty revolutionary because not only did I gain a better understanding of myself, but also those around me, including my co-workers. If you learn how to identify and speak specific languages, you’ll end up spending less time and emotional energy speaking languages that don’t resonate with others.
Chapman co-authored a similar book a few years later called “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People” that adapts the love language concept to create more meaningful relationships in the workplace.
In that spirit, I’ll be taking you through the five languages in greater detail by providing examples of how they can manifest at an agency/organization, as well as how rbb demonstrates these languages to motivate its employees.
After reading these descriptions, you should be able to determine what your primary language is. And if you’re still unsure, there’s an online assessment you can take to help identify yours.
1. Words of Affirmation
This language of appreciation is all about using words to communicate a positive message to another person.
In our digital age and industry, where we’re constantly emailing and texting, spoken praise (whether it’s face-to-face or over-the-phone) can go a long way for someone whose primary language is words of affirmation.
This could be as simple as telling an employee they did a good job writing a pitch or praising a colleague for their character and personality traits (i.e. diligence, dedication, leadership, organization, thoughtfulness, attention to detail, etc.).
Context is important to consider as well. Someone who is shy may relish words of affirmation, but being recognized in front a large crowd may make them uncomfortable. Conversely, someone who is more comfortable in the limelight may respond better to that kind of attention.
We take Words of Affirmation seriously at rbb. In fact, we have an incentive program called The Extra Mile Award that encourages employees to recognize fellow colleagues who go above and beyond by drafting a paragraph of why they’re deserving of the award that gets emailed to the entire office. The recipient also receives a hand-delivered bonus check from the CEO herself who commends the individual’s efforts.
2. Acts of Service
The old saying “actions speak louder than words” is the perfect mantra for someone whose primary language of appreciation is Acts of Service. You’re essentially showing people you care in deed, not just in word.
This can take the form of staying late to help a colleague who is swamped with deadlines, using your tech skills to assist a colleague experiencing computer problems, or helping a colleague clean up after an in-office event.
All of these actions can speak volumes, especially when a sacrifice on your part is involved. It essentially tells the recipient of the act(s) of service that they are worth the effort and hustle.
We have also had rbb’ers receive Extra Mile Awards for serving others, which goes to show that kindhearted actions do have an impact on workplace morale.
We have another internal program at our agency called Client Service Awards (aka CSAs), which recognize internal teams for going above and beyond when it comes to servicing our clients. We not only showcase exemplary results to demonstrate this added value, but also client kudos that demonstrate how pleased and impressed they were from us going above and beyond our scope of work.
3. Receiving Gifts
Someone who values receiving gifts isn’t superficial – they’re simply more touched by the time, energy and thoughtfulness behind a gift. Recognizing birthdays, special life events or purchasing “just because” gifts can go over extremely well for this kind of colleague.
One of my clients recently became a first-time grandmother, and our team decided to gift her a fabulous Glam-ma tote bag that absolutely made her day.. I was lucky enough to see her reaction when she opened it and can tell she was genuinely touched, so much so she sent us this follow-up note:
We also have a prize wheel that rewards employees who participate in our various agency-wide programs. There’s even $1,000 on there! Needless to say, speaking this language comes very naturally to rbb.
4. Quality Time
This is rooted in giving someone your focused attention and being mentally present, not just physically.
Those who work in this industry know we are masters of managing multiple priorities. However, such multitasking should never come at the expense of not actively engaging with, listening to and maintaining eye contact with someone who is speaking to you, especially if their primary language is Quality Time.
Sharing experiences or partaking in group dialogue are also great ways to speak this language. If you’re a manager, consider taking your teams and clients out for coffee or lunch every now and then. You’d be surprised how these seemingly simple outings can have a considerable effect on solidifying your working relationships.
This happens to be my primary language, and I thoroughly appreciate when someone gives me they’re undivided attention when I’m taking the time to connect with them. I’ve also experienced the opposite, which does not settle well with me at all.
You can usually tell what your primary language is or what someone else’s is based on makes you/them frustrated – someone who gets upset when no one offers to help them probably really appreciates acts of service, or someone who gets sad when their hard work goes unpraised may thrive on words of affirmation.
rbb recognizes that our industry is demanding and can lend itself to employees getting engrossed in their work. Although we value excellence as an agency, we also value each other as an employee-driven workplace, so much so we have an internal team called rbb RED that is devoted to fostering quality time amongst rbb’ers. We just started a new walk/run club that meets after work and recently planned outings to a Marlins baseball game, a St. Patrick’s Day happy hour and a volunteer day at Easterseals South Florida.
5. Physical Touch
Appropriate touch can be both affirming and meaningful in a workplace setting. It can also be tricky to express.
Chapman’s book notes that our culture has highly sexualized physical touch, but researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the positive value of appropriate touch and how it can communicate trust, connectedness and caring.
Touches can be implicit (quick gestures that don’t require much thought like a high-five, fist bump, pat on the back, etc.) or explicit (require more time and thought like an extended handshake, hug, etc.).
A co-worker who is receptive to this language would likely be encouraged with a high-five for securing a big national placement or receiving a hug following good news like a promotion or engagement, or even during bereavement. Demonstrating this language to clients depends on the rapport you have with them.
I used to be on a handshake-only basis with some that I am now on hug/kiss-on-the-cheek (typical Miami greeting) terms with. Such expressions are fine so long as they are professional and well received by the client, which requires discretion.
Some people may be more “touchy” naturally; however, it’s important that they are mindful of those who may not be receptive to this language.
How can you tell if colleagues or clients fall into this category? Simply observe their body language – tensing up when touched is a good indication. If they’re relaxed and reciprocating the touch you initiated, Physical Touch probably ranks high on their list of languages. Keeping gestures appropriate yet sincere is ultimately the balance you should aim to achieve.
One language of appreciation is not more desirable than another, and what makes one employee feel appreciated is not necessarily what makes another employee feel appreciated—individualization and sincerity are key! A team that embraces this diversity of personalities and thought will be that much closer and go that much farther.