Why workplace culture should embrace employee's appreciation preferences
Toxic Workplace vs Inclusive Workplace
Through a 2019 study conducted by businessolver, 90% of all employees believe empathy is important in the workplace, and eight in ten are willing to leave an employer who isn’t empathetic. In order to eliminate high turnover, a work environment and an effective leader must listen and relate to the others. This response can create workplace solutions that utilize compassion, plus employee engagement best practices.
According to ASAP, empathy in the workplace is essentially "the ability to identify and understand the wants, needs and viewpoints of those around you without experiencing them for yourself." Practiced through workplace chat and sharing workplace credit, teammates and employees can learn about each other and understand the challenges or life celebrations that might be playing out in the background.
Through awareness and instilling trust in the workplace, the practice of mindfulness transforms from the latest corporate buzzword into a meaningful way to instill workplace values. Especially for remote workers, employee satisfaction and access to leadership in the workplace can be important to measuring engagement.
But why is employee engagement important? And why does recognizing occasions like birthdays, work anniversaries, or maternity/paternity build empathetic workplaces and employee engagement?
The 5 Languages of Appreciation
When people were working in offices and joint spaces, employee engagement was understanding and describing, both through qualitative and quantitative measurements, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees. With remote employee engagement, the fundamental concept is the same, but changes like the effect of the digital transformation of internal processes or needing more mindfulness in the workplace come into focus.
The 5 Languages of Appreciation include Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts, and Physical Touch. While these may seem hard to achieve with remote employees, a good place to start as an HR manager or team leader is to begin building trust and holding check-ins like pulse surveys or employee engagement surveys.
Remote work can be isolating and employee engagement initiatives like diversity and inclusion can lose important focus. Based on the book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White, people express and receive appreciation in different ways. By understanding team member's language of appreciation, even digital workplaces can:
- Express genuine appreciation to co-workers and staff — even on a tight budget.
- Increase loyalty with the employees and volunteers in your organization.
- Reduce cynicism and create a more positive work environment.
- Improve your ability to show appreciation for difficult colleagues.
Celebrating the Special Moments
Workplace communications take place through Slack messages, emails, and meetings/calls. When used improperly, these channels are notorious for being time wasters and where miscommunications thrive. So how does empathy and the 5 Languages of Appreciation fit into these set channels and work to promote celebrations?
Words of Affirmation
For workers who welcome spoken or written appreciation, managers should work to confirm, support, uplift, and empathize with them in a positive manner. Team members can make this employee feel the most recognized and supported by shouting them out in a team meeting or highlighting their recent client accomplishments in the company newsletter.
These types of actions will make an employee feel motivated and seen by receiving praise or recognition. Also, an employee who might be struggling with a personal matter that is affecting their work can know that their efforts are contributing to the company's goals and help to lift their spirits. Leaders can take a moment to write an email or Slack on an employee's birthday, yearly reviews, or if they have experienced a loss with the following phrases:
- “I just want to let you know how proud of you I am.”
- “You work really hard for us, and even when things may feel tough, I just want you to know how appreciative I am.”
- “We feel so lucky to have you as a part of our team.”
- “I am here if you need me and I want to help support you in any way I can.”
- “You’re doing such a great job. We have noticed you have improved and excelled in the following areas... ”
Acts of Service
When rewarding an employee through acts of service, it is important to make sure the appreciation is fair and appropriate. Only giving acts of service to one employee, even if it is their preferred language, could be perceived as favoritism or stepping over the line. Instead, incorporate acts of service that can be utilized by a team or work environment on a self service opportunity.
For example, acts that can be personalized or managed by teams are giving employees a monthly gift card to spend at their favorite coffee shop or providing snack boxes that employees can curate or customize. Some employees might choose to use it for themselves or share with their family or housemates. These services are extra perks and show that the higher ups are noticing areas that employees could use some support in.
Just as there is an appropriate way to distribute acts of service, receiving gifts falls under a similar category and must be initiated for all employees. The difference between acts of service and receiving gifts is that gifts can mark a special occasion, be a motivating reward, or can be a random act of kindness. Showing appreciation through gifts in the workplace can be implemented as rewards for meeting targets and sales goals or given on yearly anniversaries like start dates.
Another strategy with gift giving is sending them at random times or on holidays that celebrate appreciation. Also, holidays like National Single Parent's Day or Veterans Day can be utilized to recognize employees for their life and achievements outside the workplace. By having thoughtfulness and intent behind the gift, the item sent will add value to the employee's life. Learn more about this strategy here.
Showing appreciation in the workplace through quality time falls into two categories: individual and collegial. Individual quality time can be spent with a direct supervisor or leadership team to share thoughts, make observations, ask questions, and receive feedback. Collegial quality time focuses more on team building exercises, office happy hours, or holiday celebrations.
Some ways to have managers connect with their employees or create team bonds between departments are:
- Scheduling a virtual lunch together to talk about work-related issues.
- Giving team members a call occasionally, just to chat.
- Taking time each week to have a social hour for employees to celebrate birthdays, promotions, or wins.
- For in-person offices, taking a walk during the lunch hour.
- For virtual offices, getting together online to watch sporting events, award shows, or films.
As one of the hardest appreciation languages to translate to a work environment, physical touch depends on the employee's preferences, the type of workplace dynamic, and the company culture. In order to have open communication about the perceptions around personal touch, simply ask what employees prefer like elbow bumps, a handshake, a high five, or a pat on the back. These types of celebration gestures show warmth and friendliness in a professional environment.
Good examples of this type of appreciation are the "Paul Hollywood Handshake" from The Great British Baking Show or giving team members a fist pump for sharing a great idea during a brainstorming session. This type of appreciation should also come with a dollop of hand sanitizer or hand washing afterwards to protect against the transmission of COVID-19.