Ask a Vexxpert Podcast Episode 5: The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

7 min. readbyVexxit StaffonJanuary 21, 2021
On this episode, we take a look at the importance of employee appreciation and how we show it with guest Lisa Cefali, Partner at Legacy Bowes. Lisa brings her wealth of knowledge in leadership, organizational development, strategic marketing and much more to the conversation today.

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On today’s episode, we take a look at the importance of employee appreciation and how we show it with guest Lisa Cefali, Partner at Legacy Bowes. Lisa brings her wealth of knowledge in leadership, organizational development, strategic marketing and much more to the conversation today.

Author Victor Lipman, a contributor to Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today shared some profound statistics in Forbes that frame the conversation.

Managers often view "appreciation" as one of those soft HR concepts that - in the hard business world - doesn't matter much. That is until you see statistics showing that approximately two out of three employees would quit if they don't get enough of it. 66% of employees say they would "likely leave their job if they didn't feel appreciated." This is up significantly from 51% of employees who felt this way in 2012.

Among millennials, the number of employees who'd leave if unappreciated jumps to 76%. This helps account for the overall increase from the 51% figure in 2012, as millennials are becoming the dominant generation in the workforce.

Another study shows us that this "soft" concern has plenty of hard dollars behind it, as dissatisfied employees and turnover are issues costing companies hundreds of billions of dollars on an annual basis.

We’re thrilled to have Lisa with us today to guide us through this topic. She was introduced to the concept while reading Gary Chapman’s bestseller, The Five Love Languages. The work is geared more towards personal relationships, but looking deeper into Chapman’s work, Lisa discovered that these core principles have remarkable ripple effects in organizations.

“It's basically the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. However, the five languages go a step further. Treat others as they would like to be treated,” shared Lisa.

How do you know what your employees' language of appreciation is? You can get some insights by observing how they show their appreciation. That is usually an indication of what they value. The simpler way? Just ask.

Lisa added that “often when we think about rewards, we think of the phrase, we need to treat everyone equally. And we as employers have interpreted that as we need to treat people the same. But in fact, what I explored is that we can treat everyone equally, and not the same and we’ll actually hit the mark much better”

Using this practice since 2003, she’s noticed “it crosses genders, it crosses generations, and crosses cultures."

A great example she cites is a company buying a pile of $10 coffee gift cards for their employees. Now, multiply that by the number of employees you have and think of the money spent. However, how many employees are you really connecting with?

Some will be grateful. However, some will go, “Oh thanks, but I don’t drink coffee.” Perhaps that is a person whose language is words of affirmation. What they would really appreciate is an email saying “I really appreciated what you did with that contract” and citing specifics about their strong performance. And that email didn’t cost the company a $10 gift card, but it went a lot further.

Author Gary Chapman published a follow up to his renowned best-seller called Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace in 2012 solidifying how these principles translate into our work lives. Here’s a brief look at his theory:

Five languages of appreciation in the workplace

Each of us feels appreciated in different ways or you could say we have different “languages of appreciation”. We are most deeply fulfilled when we receive appreciation in our primary language.

Effective appreciation and recognition must be tailored and delivered personally and must be relevant and valuable to the individual. Unless we express our appreciation in others’ primary language, we “miss the mark” and fail to meet their deepest needs for appreciation. The five types are:

Words of Affirmation

This language is about affirming others using written or spoken words, for example, praise for accomplishments or affirming someone’s character.

Quality Time

Quality Time is about giving someone undivided personal attention like quality conversations, shared experiences like a retreat or small group dialogues.

Acts of Service

Acts of Service is about pitching in to help and get things done, though there are nuances to watch for. In the episode, Lisa cites how it's not doing an employee's job for them, but helping them with a task that may show your appreciation.

Tangible Gifts

Tangible gifts involve offering thoughtful, non-monetary gifts to those who appreciate them like tickets for a soccer match or a concert.


This is clearly one to be very mindful of, especially in the workplace, and especially when you factor in topics like COVID, consent and sexual harassment. Some people don’t want to be touched and that must be respected by their employer. We discussed an example of an employee with touch as their primary language. In that case, it was as simple as walking over to that person, shaking their hand and saying right to them, “Thank you so much for what you did”.

Lisa also touched on a novel idea called the “Christmas Wish List” she led in a previous organization. It is a truly unique way to show appreciation for staff where they send in two Christmas wishes to the organization and the organization grants one of them.

The criteria are this:

You can’t ask for more time off.

You can’t ask for an increase on your salary.

It has to be reasonable. (they don’t define reasonable)

They have to be very specific to you and they want to hear why it's meaningful to you.

Every year they’ve done this, they learn so much about the employees and the reasonableness is there. An example is a mother who shares custody of her child. She requested to shift her working hours once a week so she could walk her son to the bus stop as it's something her co-parenting schedule rarely gives her a chance to do. Listen to the full episode to hear the heartfelt asks and gifts received. The story is sure to move you.

In any company we have to ask, what does it cost for us to replace people who leave? If you have someone that is of value to the organization, invest in them. Investing doesn’t necessarily mean more money, it can mean appreciation.

For every employee who can wake up and look forward to going to work for that very reason, then as business owners, we’ve done the right thing by appreciating our people.

Connect with Lisa Cefali at Legacy Bowes or on LinkedIn.

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