Show Appreciation to Increase Engagement, Improve Performance

Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies

Bob Milligan

As frequent readers know, I am a reader of leadership books. I believe the ideas in my latest read can greatly contribute to workforce engagement and retention. My goal in this article is to share some key ideas from the book: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White.

I frequently write and speak about the importance of positive feedback. Positive feedback recognizes good performance and desired behavior. The goal is to reinforce these successes, so they continue. Positive feedback is primarily about behavior – actions.

Appreciation is a great complement to positive feedback Appreciation is focused on affirming

  the value of the person. Appreciation is directed toward what is good for the person as well as for the farm/organization. Appreciation is focused on the emotional wellbeing of the person and their attachment to the farm as well as the person’s performance and behavior.

We can relate the difference between positive feedback and appreciation to our previous discussion of the three motivation drivers: autonomy or choice, relatedness or connection, and competence. Positive feedback is primarily related to reinforcing and increasing competence while appreciation increases relatedness/connection.

Why is authentic appreciation needed or desired? Research has shown that the greatest deterrent to employee engagement is FEELING unappreciated. Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 64% of Americans leaving a job do so because they do not feel appreciated.

A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.

Showing authentic appreciation is more than saying “thank you.” In fact, the authors identify five types – languages – of appreciation. Further, we each have preferred languages of appreciation.

The five languages of appreciation are:

  • Appreciation language #1: Words of affirmation uses words to communicate positive messages to partners, employees, coworkers, family members, and friends. Words of appreciation include praise for accomplishments, affirmation of character, and praise for personality. Affirmation may be personal – one-on-one – or public in front of others or in a more formal setting. Keep in mind, though, that the authors’ research shows that 40-50% of us do not want recognition in front of a large group.

  • Appreciation language #2: Quality time is showing others they are valued by giving them your most valued resource – time. Quality time is more than just being or working together. Quality time includes focused attention, quality conversation, shared expression with colleagues, working collegially on a task, and small group dialogue. Success in providing quality time has two challenges. The first is selecting the right type; even people with strong preferences for quality time have preferred types. Be observant. Second, effective quality time must be authentic and requires excellent communication skills: active listening, eye contact, observing body language, affirming feelings.
  • Appreciation language #3: Acts of service is a pitch in and help others get things done. Those with this as their preferred language say: “Don’t tell me your care; show me.” They are saying “What I could really use is a little help.” There are several keys to effectively providing quality time: make sure your responsibilities are covered before volunteering to help others, ask before you help, don’t assume you know what help they want or need, do it their way, and serve voluntarily. You can also ask these questions to ensure help will hit the mark: 1) What would be helpful to you? 2) How would you like the task(s) done? 3) When would be the best time to help?
  • Appreciation language #4: Tangible rewards can be anything from a gift card to tickets to time off. Although tangible gifts are the most common form of appreciation in many farms, businesses, and organizations; only 6% of all employees had tangible gifts as their primary language in the authors’ MBA (Motivating by Appreciation) Inventory. I think the appeal of tangible gifts is that the giver can avoid thinking about and sharing emotions; however, truly authentic appreciation requires expression of emotions. The tangible gifts are poor substitutes for heartfelt appreciation.
  • Appreciation language #5: Physical touch is the most sensitive and controversial language of appreciation. Although there are appropriate occasions for high fives, pats on the back, and hugs; this language must be used with great caution. It is not included in the MBA Inventory.

You may now be thinking: “Bob, this is a lot; what do I do with it?” You could buy the book and take the MBA Inventory. I learned that my preferred language is acts of service followed closely by words of affirmation with tangible rewards my least preferred.

More likely, I am hoping you are thinking: “OK Bob, this is interesting. What can I do to get started?” Here are some points from the book and my experiences:

  • I was not surprised by my preferred languages. Think about what your preferred languages would be. You will likely be correct. Also, think about what language might be preferred by each of your employees (and partners and family members).
  • I suggest starting with words of appreciation. Providing authentic words of appreciation will likely not be easy. To be authentic, it must be specific, contain emotional messages, and create an emotional response. “Good job” is not very meaningful. An example from the book: “Steve, I just wanted to let you know I appreciate your hard work and commitment to getting the job done right.”
  • We hear often that young people today are different. The authors research identified minor differences. Words of affirmation was similar and thus the preferred language for all ages. Acts of service were relatively less important for young people. Quality time was second for both groups with young people somewhat higher. Younger people have greater preferences for time off, immediate feedback, and working collaboratively.
  • Much like what I often hear about my teaching, the authors often hear “This sounds really good, but it won’t work in my industry.” The authors have specifically looked at many settings, concluding: “The principles can be applied to virtually any type of work setting.”
  • The preferred language of appreciation can change based on circumstances. Perhaps most importantly for our current situation in agriculture, the languages of quality time and acts of service become more important in times of stress. Whether the stress is from the farm or from life’s circumstances, actions – time and services – become more important than words.



At this point, you may be thinking what should I do if the person does not deserve appreciation. This situation often occurs because the person is failing to meet expectations. Rather than showing appreciation (it will not be authentic anyway), you must use redirection and/or negative feedback to proactively address the failure to meet expectations. As performance improves, you can show appreciation for the improvement.

The languages of appreciation and performance feedback are wonderfully complementary.

Full Steam Ahead, Bob.

Dr. Bob Milligan may be contacted at 651 647-0495 or [email protected]. This article is taken from his December Learning Edge, his e-newsletter and is used here with permission.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.