Employee disengagement depletes organizations of people, productivity, and profit. A Robert Half International survey revealed that people who leave an organization report “lack of appreciation” as one of the top two reasons for moving on. The Gallup organization estimates the loss of productivity caused by employee disengagement to be more than $300 billion in the U.S.
People are at the core of the equation. They drive productivity and profits. How can organizations prevent the loss of key talent, arguably its most important asset? And how can career development professionals help organizations and their employees prevent career derailment, both at the leadership level and on the front lines?
The following conversation between Dr. Paul White, coauthor of The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, and Susan Whitcomb, co-editor of the Careers in Organizations column, explores these challenges.
SW: How does appreciation impact career development?
PW: We know that people stay longer when they feel valued (even if there are other external opportunities to advance) because they like where they are and the people they work with.
SW: Your book describes five “languages.” Let’s take the languages one at a time. Could you describe Words of Affirmation?
PW: Words of Affirmation uses words to communicate a positive message to another person. People who respond to Words of Affirmation love praise—not inappropriately or excessively so—but, clearly, what others think of them is important to them.
SW: What advice would you give to career development practitioners who want to offer or teach others to use Words of Affirmation in the workplace?
PW: It’s important that those words not be hollow praise. A simple “Good job guys!” or “Way to go!” won’t get it. To be meaningful, Words of Affirmation need to be specific. The words can acknowledge accomplishment, character, or positive personality traits. For instance, “One of the things I admire about you, Joe, is that you are always optimistic. When others talk with you, they go away with a more positive perspective. I appreciate that, and it means a lot to the team.”
SW: What does the next language, Quality Time, look like in the work place?
PW: Career development professionals can help supervisors be aware that Quality Time doesn’t mean they have to spend the whole day with an employee. Quality Time can be brief, but it must be genuine. Simply put, it means giving the person undivided attention. That can take the form of quality conversations —empathetic dialogue where two individuals are sharing their thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context.
SW: Language #3 is Acts of Service. Tell us about that.
PW: Acts of Service happen when others pitch in and help get things done. In this economy, where organizational budgets have shrunk and staff have been cut, Acts of Service is becoming more important. In fact, some people are finding that, during pressing deadlines or heavy workloads, Acts of Service can trump a previous preference for Words of Affirmation or Tangible Gifts.
SW: I imagine that Acts of Service can get tricky, given that everyone is pressed for time.
PW: That brings up an important point. Before offering Acts of Service, people must make sure their own responsibilities are covered before volunteering to help others. It’s also important to ask before helping to see if the person would like assistance. Diving in to help when the coworker does not want help can create tension rather than encouragement. Of course, Acts of Service need to be done with a positive, cheerful attitude, and done in the way the recipient wants. Acts of Service that alleviate a manager’s workload can also demonstrate efficiency and promotability on the part of the employee.
SW: Language #4 is Tangible Gifts. How can managers and employees demonstrate this language when most organizations’ budgets are being cut?
PW: When we introduce the concept of showing appreciation to employees through tangible gifts, many people’s eyes light up and they say, “Yes. Show me the money!” But we are not talking about raises or bonuses. In many work settings, this is not a realistic option. Financial compensation is usually tied directly to job descriptions and reaching agreed-upon performance levels. The focus of this appreciation language is primarily on non-monetary gifts.
SW: Say more about that.
PW: First, you need to give gifts primarily to those individuals who appreciate them. Second, for an effective expression of appreciation through Tangible Gifts, you must give a gift the person values. Tickets to the ballet are not going to make some guys feel warm and fuzzy. Employers can offer low-cost Tangible Gifts, such as Restaurant.com gift cards, certificates for ice cream, shopping bucks at a local mall, and so on.
SW: Language #5 is Physical Touch. Pardon the pun, but I imagine that’s a touchy subject in corporate America these days.
PW: We know that physical touch is a normal part of life. In the workplace, it is largely spontaneous celebration, as demonstrated by a “high five,” fist bump, or congratulatory handshake. At the same time, it can be problematic in the workplace; we caution colleagues to be aware of types of touch that can be experienced as inappropriate, which is always based on the recipient’s perception, not the giver’s.
SW: How can an organization begin to implement the Languages of Appreciation?
PW: Many of the organizations I’ve consulted start implementing appreciation in their Human Resources, Organizational Development, or Training & Coaching departments. But it can also start outside these disciplines, particularly if career development professionals encourage workers to become aware of others’ preferences for appreciation and then identify opportunities to implement various forms of appreciation.
SW: Where can people learn more about Appreciation at Work?
PW: The book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, is a good place to start. It comes with a code to take the Motivating by Appreciation (MBA) Inventory. There is also information on accessing the MBA inventory for multiple staff members and training at the website www.appreciationatwork.com.
SW: Thank you for sharing and showing the value of appreciation!
As career development professionals, we are strategically positioned to influence one of the key reasons employees decide to stay or leave an organization—the degree to which they feel appreciated. The tools for success are readily available and easily implementable. And, in most cases, they are free to give, yet priceless to receive.
Chapman, G. D., White, P. E. (2011). The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, author, speaker, and consultant who makes work relationships work. He is the coauthor of the book, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, written with Dr. Gary Chapman (author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, The Five Love Languages). He can be reached at www.appreciationatwork.com.
Susan Whitcomb is the award-winning author of seven career and job search books and is founder of The Academies, including the Career Coach Academy and Job Search Academy. She can be reached at www.TheAcademies.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SusanWhitcomb.TheAcademies.