The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Motivating Employees by Developing a Culture of Appreciation (Part 1)

Circle of Happy Coworkers

We’ve been exploring how understanding people’s primary love languages can help us develop stronger relationships in both our personal and professional lives. Now it’s time to examine those principles specifically in the context of the workplace.

For years, Dr. Gary Chapman had been wanting to apply the concepts developed in The 5 Love Languages to the workplace, but it wasn’t until he met psychologist and organizational consultant Dr. Paul E. White that he knew he’d found the right coauthor for this project. Their research culminated in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.

The Value of Appreciation

7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Steven Covey argues that psychological survival—feeling appreciated, understood, and affirmed—comes second only to physical survival in human needs.

Even so, employers who are myopically focused on the bottom line may not recognize the value of cultivating appreciation in the workplace. As we’ve repeatedly discussed in this blog, however, the recent wave of scientific research on happiness teaches us that investing in employee happiness, job satisfaction, and strengths yields higher profits and productivity, making this a win-win goal for everyone at the organization.

Why People Leave

A four-year study conducted by one of the leading exit interview firms reveals that managers could not be more wrong about the reasons employees leave. As many as 89% of managers believe employees leave their company for monetary reasons, but the fact is only 12% reported money as their cause of departure. A staggering 88% of employees said they left for other reasons—the number one cause being not feeling valued.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. Nearly 70% of US employees reported to Gallup that they receive no praise in the workplace. This lack of recognition creates a climate of discouragement and makes it difficult for organizations to retain quality employees.

According to research, employees favor recognition by supervisors over colleagues by a 2:1 margin. When that recognition is withheld, emotionally starved employees may start looking elsewhere for fulfillment.

The High Cost of Turnover

It is estimated that the cost of labor turnover on the US economy is $5 trillion a year. The loss of productivity, eroding morale, and time involved in hiring and training takes a hefty toll on an organization, especially when turnover is frequent. Far more cost-effective would be to invest in the people already there.

Managers’ Concerns

Employees who do not feel emotionally supported by their supervisors are far more likely to experience burnout. Employee turnover not only damages morale but also the financial health of the company.

In polling organizational leaders, White and Chapman discovered that managers’ five greatest concerns about employees are:

1) employees getting discouraged

2) employees experiencing burnout

3) employees feeling overwhelmed

4) the organization losing the positive culture built up over the years

5) managers not knowing how to encourage employees with limited financial resources

Developing an environment of appreciation helps combat all of these concerns.

Authenticity Is Key

Retaining your best employees begins with genuine, individual expressions of appreciation in the employee’s preferred language. Efforts to express appreciation must be specific to that person.

Authenticity is key. That’s why attempts to institute a companywide recognition policy often backfire—if expressions of gratitude are obligatory, employees will perceive those gestures as insincere, sparking resentment toward both their managers and the organization.

Culture of Appreciation

Establishing a culture of appreciation is a different story. By encouraging everyone at the company—supervisors and coworkers alike—to express gratitude and respect through the individual’s primary appreciation language, employers can boost job satisfaction and subsequently retention and productivity.

Stay Tuned

In our next post, we will examine the five languages of appreciation in detail: 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) acts of service, 4) receiving gifts, and 5) physical touch. We will also share tips on how to gauge a fellow employee’s language of appreciation—and look at tools you can use to help cultivate a culture of appreciation at your workplace.

More Details

Visit the Appreciation at Work website for a list of resources, assessments, training tools, and videos on the research presented in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.


  1. Wow! I so value this information and would love to have a group pow-wow at my work to sink in to this. I think appreciation and recognition is a VERY important part to keeping a employee well oiled. I must admit, I have left jobs because I feel discouraged, burnout and under appreciated. Is there a way one can transform their current job to reflect more ease and grace and less push and pressure?
    I found this book too:

    Thank you Chris!

    • Thanks, Jen. I think you’ll find that you can make a difference — by modeling these actions, you may influence others to do the same.

  2. Chris, thanks for the thoughtful entry; you make a compelling argument for the importance of appreciation. Unfortunately, much of the marketplace is focused on employee engagement — which on the one hand is good; but on the other hand, is misguided. Engagement is a RESULT of other good things going on in the workplace. Nobody that I know of goes around saying, “I really want to be more engaged at work,” or “Boy, I feel so engaged now.” They want to feel appreciated (and have their input matter, participate in appropriate decisions, etc.)

    Employee engagement is the natural result when employees feel valued, just like losing weight is the natural result of eating right and exercising. I’ll look forward to your next post.

    Paul White, PhD
    co-author, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

  3. Chris, thank you for mentioning the “Happiness at Work” book. This will be a great resource for me as I support organizations wishing to achieve greater employee engagement by addressing the underlying contributing factors.

    I use The 5 Languages of Appreciation at Work with my clients. Jen, the Motivating by Appreciation Inventory found at is a great resource to enable workplace colleagues to express appreciation in a meaningful way. It can be implemented within an organization with ease and grace; we never want to push and pressure people to use it.

    • Glad you can use the “Happiness at Work” book! Jessica Pryce-Jones is a great mentor and researcher. Her findings are exciting and prove much of what we already felt was true. Now, it’s scientific!

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