Go Beyond ‘Thank You’ for Employee Recognition: Incorporate the Five Love Languages in Your Workplace

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As a leader, you’ve probably heard or said the phrase “let’s get on the same page.” Communication is the backbone of great relationships, workplace or otherwise, but in the age of the Great Resignation and remote work, its value runs deeper. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), poor communication can cost businesses as much as $62.4 million annually.

There is a real disconnect between employers and employees. You may think you’re giving enough recognition and acknowledgement to your employees, but 58% likely want more of it. Without authentic and meaningful recognition, your employees may be disengaged or even looking elsewhere for professional happiness.

Recognition comes in a myriad of forms. I took a page out of Gary Chapman’s bestselling book The Five Love Languages to provide employers with a fresh understanding of how employees’ preferred love languages impact recognition and can help increase retention and engagement.

First off, what exactly is employee recognition?

Before diving in, let’s first talk about what employee recognition is and isn’t. Employee recognition is open praise and acknowledgment of employees’ achievements or behaviors, such as demonstrating exemplary customer service or hitting major project milestones. Praise is appreciated—and oftentimes expected—by employees of all industries, locations, career stage and position.

The effective use of engagement tools can further support these engagement efforts. In fact, our recent research found that 82% of respondents would be interested in leveraging an employee recognition platform where they could send and receive recognition to or from anyone in their company.

Recognition is also appreciated, and has even been proven to increase performance, motivation, retention, innovation and trust—while positively impacting company culture. But recognizing your employees isn’t about filling a “quota,” over-the-top praise, or taking a generic approach. We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule—treating others as you would want to be treated—the more effective approach is recognizing your employees based on their preferences.

Love Languages for Workplace Recognition: 5 ways to show employee appreciation all year

1. Words of affirmation: regular compliments to retain employees

People love compliments, but those who identify with words of affirmation enjoy receiving verbal acknowledgment of their accomplishments. There are two types of workplace words of affirmation: private recognition given one-on-one, and public recognition in front of colleagues. Consider acknowledging employees who prefer public recognition in a team meeting, posting on your company’s recognition platform or sending a message of praise to the whole department. Private recognition can be as simple as a “thank you” during a one-on-one meeting or sending an email acknowledging the employee’s success.

2. Acts of service: team wins

Acts of service are when people help team members. This could mean supporting an upcoming project or providing resources to position them for success. Managers can map out priorities alongside their teams to ensure employees workloads are fair and realistic, which helps improve employee well-being, prevents burnout, and boosts retention. To better encourage and reinforce acts of service within your company, tie recognition to a company value based on teamwork.

3. Quality time: team building

Your company may already recognize which employees are most enthusiastic about your company’s social or events calendar. Those whose love language is quality time may feel particularly appreciated after having the opportunity to discuss their interests or hobbies in a small group, or perhaps participating in a team brainstorming session. Consider hosting team events based on shared interests, creating resource groups, or hosting a virtual escape room or happy hour to relate to this group of your employees.

4. Gifts: using rewards to recognize employees

Surprising your employees with thoughtful and even unexpected rewards can make them feel appreciated. Gifts are the most preferred workplace recognition vehicle, and aren’t just for the holidays. In fact, small, more frequent rewards distributed throughout the year can make employees feel more appreciated than a single, larger reward during the holidays. Consider rewards like prepaid and gift cards after people reach major project milestones or resolve a tough client challenge. Rewards can be tailored to your employees’ preferences and interests, and also consider adding a personalized card or note with your company’s logo.

5. Physical: enhance relationships by encouraging feedback touchpoints

To nurture this language, encourage leaders to hold regular one-on-one meetings with employees. Perhaps new employees would like a weekly check-in, and maybe more seasoned employees would prefer to meet monthly. Communication is important, no matter the cadence, for improving team loyalty, strengthening relationships, and ensuring employees have the resources and tools they need to meet their goals. Frequent communication also encourages leaders to provide mentorship—as opposed to just management—for employee performance.

Choosing the perfect reward for your employees can be time-consuming and difficult. But uncovering how they prefer to be recognized and which rewards they find most meaningful can drive long-lasting benefits for employers and employees alike.

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