The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace
He wants to hold your hand, but you want to talk. You want a hug at the end of a terrible day, but he wants to go on an adventure. Not being in sync with your partner can feel like relationship doom, but there could be a simple fix with a little research and intent—and an examination of the love languages.
The sentiments behind the love languages are as old as the relationship advice your grandma probably gave you as a kid, but they still hold up with regard to romance, friendship and even workplace connections. The concept is simple: Care about how the other person likes to be loved. Here’s how it works.
What are the love languages?
The concept of love languages originated with a Baptist pastor named Gary Chapman, Ph.D. around 30 years ago. In 1992, he published a book with a title that would eventually become an everyday household term: The 5 Love Languages. With more than 20 million copies sold, the author details the ways people want to be loved and how they love others, with one key difference—they aren’t always the same—and that’s where the confusion lies in some relationships.
The five love languages are:
- Physical touch: Hand-holding, a pat on the shoulder or back, a hug
- Words of affirmation: Telling someone they did a great job, praising them for overcoming challenges, or letting them know you admire them
- Gifts: Giving a small token of appreciation to show you were thinking of them, or a thoughtful, more expensive gift
- Acts of service: Doing something for someone else, whether it’s fixing the printer or unloading the dishwasher
- Quality time: Setting aside and spending focused time with someone, from a walking meeting at lunch to an afternoon getaway with your partner
Do love languages really work?
For some, taking a free love language quiz helps prompt conversations with romantic partners, friends or coworkers about how people best want to be loved and how they naturally love others. These conversations can be helpful to increase awareness.
Scientifically speaking, the love languages concept might work, though some research shows mixed results. Researchers concluded that the love languages are helpful for increasing male and female satisfaction rates in relationships when they are paired with self-regulatory behaviors. Berkeley reported that there are more than five love languages, and people might struggle to fit cleanly within the parameters of the five love languages. Additional research shows that partners fare best when they have the same love language, which can prove problematic for the rest of us.
“If you know someone’s love language, you can use it to create connection and uplift them in context-appropriate ways,” says Aaron Steinberg, co-founder of Grow Together, a company normalizing the struggles relationships face during parenthood. He is also the co-author of In It Together: A Practical Guide for Balancing Roles and Responsibilities While Staying Connected in Parenthood.
Steinberg gives the following example: “You may write your friend a very sincere and complimentary birthday card if you know they are a words of affirmation person, take your parent out to a one-on-one meal if you know they are a quality time person, or put a lot of thought into a great gift specific to your sibling’s personality if they are into gifts. It can be quite useful to understand how any person in our life likes to feel cared for… and having more purposeful and meaningful interactions can feel great for both of us.”
The love languages at work: The 5 languages of appreciation
Chapman didn’t stop with romantic love—he paired up with Paul White to coauthor an additional book called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. This guide follows similar concepts but with fewer steamy examples and a little more kudos for a job well done, depending on your language. Following the pandemic, White has focused on remote work resources as well.
They didn’t stop there, either. They adapted the program Discover Your Language of Appreciation for specific industries and types of workplaces—from remote work environments to nonprofits, senior care and even the military. Some industries, like medicine and tradework, have their own courses and collaboration models as well.
However, just like casting industries in a specific light may not be helpful, it can also be detrimental to typecast people into certain roles (which those of us with multiple high-ranking love languages might notice).
“Similar to the off-putting feelings you may get when your friend explains your complex motivations and experience with, ‘Oh that’s such a Gemini thing to do,’ it can feel bad to be on the receiving end of narrow and generic interactions based on a love language,” Steinberg says. “Make sure you don’t start interacting with people like making them feel good is a box to check based on their love language, or even worse, what you assume it is.” He says that can lead to missing their humanity and how people naturally change over time—and that humans really are more complicated than that.
Using love languages in the workplace can boost performance
Seems over the top? Likely, it’s not. Research shows workplace appreciation is a key factor in employee happiness and retention. According to Nectar’s 2023 survey of 1,800 full-time employees, 83.6% of employees felt that being recognized or appreciated for their work impacts their motivation to do their best job.
So, the love languages just might be directly connected to profit. And don’t be daunted by using the word “love” at work.
“In personal growth and self-help, everything is branded for maximum cutesiness and sellability, so we shouldn’t be scared by the word “love” in love languages when thinking about how they can apply to non-romantic relationships,” Steinberg says. “Love languages can easily be translated to ways you feel validated, cared for, or a sense of positive connection, which applies to any relationship.”
Simply showing that you are curious and interested in how someone best receives love or positive encouragement matters. “Valuing a person’s psychology is just like valuing other aspects—like asking about a person’s interests or family,” says Dr. Ergi Gumusaneli, psychiatrist and CEO of Fitz Ilias Mental Health Providers, a national mental health provider company. He thinks there is room for adding these concepts in workplace training and leadership education.
“Concepts from the five love languages have been studied by managers and used in leadership seminars for improving communication, team dynamics, encouraging leadership development, improving engagement among people in a team, and also assisting with conflict resolution, to name several examples.”
What if you are speaking different languages?
Even if you know the other person’s love language, it can be a struggle to express love in that way if it’s not the way you naturally like to receive it as well. Studying both parts of the equation is necessary. Say your partner really wants physical touch—they like holding hands, having sex regularly and cuddling on the couch. But you don’t love physical touch, and you’d prefer either talking or having someone do an act of service like taking a pesky task off your to-do list.
“If there are areas where people want to enhance relationships, a study of one’s self is just as important, if not more important, than attempts to implement action towards others,” Gumusaneli says.
“We spend a lot of time trying to interact with people in ways we assume they are wanting, but end up not being what they are looking for. This dynamic amounts to a lot of wasted energy and the feeling like ‘I’m always trying to meet everyone else’s needs and don’t get my own met,’” Steinberg explains.
This is where the concept of love languages might work better in theory than in day-to-day life—it’s not practical for someone who hates physical affection to make themselves desire it. But instead, they might realize how important it is to hold their partner’s hand occasionally.
How leaders can implement the 5 languages of appreciation
Ready to give it a go? Even if you aren’t doing a formal company-wide training or quiz, pockets of colleagues, friends, bosses and teams can talk about this concept as part of their workplace environment initiatives. Anyone can ask, “How do you most want to receive appreciation for a job well done?” Even the act of caring enough to ask can be a step in the right direction. Other things to try include:
- Taking something off a colleague’s plate that you know is stressing them out
- Speaking highly of someone in front of their boss or team
- Giving a small gift of appreciation to someone who went out of their way to help you
Steinberg adds, “Love languages are not a complete model of connection, nor are they perfect, but they do give us a doorway into understanding how to meet each other’s interpersonal needs better.”
Photo by JLco Julia Amaral/Shutterstock.com