When your boss doesn’t offer the kind of appreciation you desire for what you do, no matter how hard you work, it’s an exhausting path to burnout. And as a manager, when your employees feel undervalued, you’re on a costly road to employee turnover or underperforming staff.
This unmet human need — the need to feel valued and secure in one’s role — may not stem from the lack of a generous salary or employee benefits package (although competitive wages and benefits certainly meet other fundamental human needs, especially in this struggling economy).
You’ve heard of love languages in romantic relationships, but does love language have a role in the workplace? Will identifying our love languages at work help us work better together? Would it make the workplace a place we look forward to going to every day? I started thinking about this as a joke when I noticed most of my colleagues couldn’t stop nagging like an unhappy wife no matter how hard the bosses tried, (best to my knowledge) but then I thought, maybe there is more to this.
Just like understanding your partner’s preferred love language, what if you knew your coworker’s preferred way of working, communicating and how to be communicated to or with? By recognizing everyone’s workplace love language, you’ll effectively be treating others as they would like to be treated, tough but I believe a worthwhile venture for bosses/ Management. One can get a pretty good feeling about someone’s workplace love language by asking these three questions:
- How does this person treat others?
- What does this person complain about?
- What does this person request most often?
The five workplace love languagesAssuming each of the love language is reworked:
- Words of Affirmation = Feedback + Mentorship
- Quality Time = Workplace Bonding
- Receiving Gifts = New Opportunities + Challenges
- Acts of Service = Support
- Physical Touch = Encouraging Touchpoints
The main difference between a love language between two partners and a workplace love language is this: When you communicate your love language with your partner, you create a symbiotic relationship between the two of you. However, taking this approach in the workplace creates a culture of care, empathy, teamwork and perspective. When done authentically, the workplace languages will become contagious.
1. Words of Affirmation – feedback + mentorship
The first love language is normally words of affirmation. We think this fit perfectly into the workplace as is—for the most part. However, unlike a romantic relationship, the workplace is not exactly the environment to dole praise out when it’s undeserved or when it actually worsens the problem. And would also paint the wrong picture to other employees who might sense favouritism.
To that end, let’s change this love language to feedback and mentorship. Personally, I love feedback. Even if it’s tough to swallow (and, wow, sometimes it really is), well-meaning feedback is the key to learning about yourself and growing. If you think feedback and mentorship might be your primary workplace love language, you can actually communicate that pretty easily. Make it clear to your teammates and leadership that feedback is what propels you to do better.
If you have aspirations of leadership, let your manager know that you are open to learning new ways to do things in order to strengthen your own managerial skill sets. However, tread cautiously so as to not give your boss the impression that you’re too ambitious and wouldn’t mind taking over their position. Examples may include but not limited to;
- Workplace appreciation in a public setting (e.g., a meeting) to tell someone what a great job they’re doing
- Verbal acknowledgment of your boss’ great leadership
- Creating a spot at the top of your team meeting where everyone shares a high (and maybe a low, to keep it balanced)
- Directing some words of affirmation at yourself
If you’re not particularly adept at expressing yourself through words, finding the right ones may feel like a stretch — or even like you’re unnecessarily fawning. The key to avoiding an insincere shower of praise is to focus less on making a person feel good and more on communicating the positive change they create in your life and in your organization. As a manager with an employee who needs Words of Affirmation:
- Identify specific actions that you appreciate. E.g., “I really appreciate how you jumped in to help the new team member.”
- Let them know how their work positively impacts other stakeholders. E.g., “You’re making them feel welcomed and supported, plus you’re taking some of the pressure off of me while I’m putting out other fires.”
2. Quality Time – workplace bonding
I think we should derive most of our confidence from within. However, I also think it’s fine to get some affirmation from the outside. To put it in dessert terms, we should be able to make our confidence sundae and allow outside influence to be the whipped cream, sprinkles, or the cherry on top. So let’s talk about workplace friendliness, in reworking of the “quality time” love language. In the workplace, this falls into the “non-work” category.
This is taking time for non-work-related meetings. This is following up with your coworker about the new things in their lives. It adds a human touch to the work environment. Employees feel more human because then they realize there is more to the workplace than just reports and deadlines.
Last, but certainly not least. Sometimes, the best way to refresh morale is by encouraging time off work. A few ‘lazy days’ here and there would go a long way to optimize the performance of team members. Examples of Workplace Bonding as a Workplace Love Language:
- Taking your team to lunch at the end of a big project
- Celebrating workplace anniversaries with a small celebration
- Encouraging team members to take mental health days
- Throwing surprise birthday parties for workers.
3. Gifts – new opportunities
This is our reworking of the gifts love language.We’re not here to say that there is no place for a celebratory gift certificate to your favorite coffee shop. Physical gifts are a great reminder of someone caring for you, thinking of you, and bringing you a physical manifestation of that care.
In the workplace, we think the best “gifts” can be new opportunities. When this is your love language, you work hard to make sure you’re at the top of the list to be on a new project or take on a new opportunity. To communicate this love language, keep an open line with your management.
When an opportunity arises, make sure to raise your hand. New opportunities are also readily available to an employee who demonstrates an interest and openness to learning new skills. Last, but not least, a physical gift has its place, too. Leaders, take note: a nice desk succulent or token of gratitude goes a long, long way. Examples of Gifts or New Opportunities as a Workplace Love Language:
- An actual gift on a work anniversary or upon gaining a new, important client
- A celebratory day off
- Giving a higher-level opportunity to someone who has excelled recently
- Offering mentorship or advice to a newer employee
4. Acts of Service – Support
Another love language is acts of service. This is when a partner goes out of their way to make your life easier. Or basically make you of the fact that you always have people who want to see you excel. We reworked the acts of service love language into support and care.
This language is for someone who really believes that actions speak louder than words. Support, in the workplace, might look like checking in with someone who is struggling or over-worked. Unlike some other love languages, support includes action.
Instead of saying something like, “Let me know if you need help,” you might share a document or resource you found helpful when working on a similar project or go out of your way to cover for someone who is overrun and is shy to ask for help.Support is lifting your coworkers up with action over words. Be genuine, don’t only do it when everyone watching so you come off as a good person in public.Examples of Support as a Workplace Love Language:
- A “just checking in” email with a coworker who is struggling
- Emailing a helpful resource or a tip that helps you to streamline your work
- Helping a coworker who is clearly overworked when you have free space
- Bringing in something as small as, example, donuts on a day where everyone is overworked.
- Organizing fun bonding activities with team members at least at the end of every week.
5. Touch – encouraging touchpoints
Room for encouragement—both to give it and to receive it in the workplace. I think we all knew that physical touch was going to be the love language we couldn’t translate into the workplace. The so-called language of physical touch is not something we want to explore too much in the workplace—besides a fist bump or a perceptible head nod in a video call.
The physical touch love language is a tangible reminder of love. It actually goes back to the affection you received as a child. Let’s open up and relate with our workspace with a childlike posture; not childish but childlike. Do everything with an absolutely open heart, have no suspicions, love unconditionally, be honest and don’t be afraid to hide your happiness.
For the workplace, we replaced physical touch with encouragement. Think of the phone call or the email you received when you got the job. The hiring manager likely summarizes what they loved about you, what they hope to see from you, and how excited they are for you to start working. This sort of encouragement can tend to be cast aside as we settle into the busyness of work life. Encouragement can be touchpoints or compliments regularly infused into the workweek. We tend to gloss over successes and accomplishments without ever taking time to savor the experiences. Consider creating encouraging touchpoints throughout your week. Examples of Encouraging Touchpoints as a Workplace Love Language:
- A well-timed fist bump to celebrate a big win
- Making eye contact and smiling when doling out praise in front of others
- Words of appreciation when someone gets a promotion, a raise, or another milestone
- Regular 1:1 meetings to check in and speak about real-life things, outside of work
Manager, boss, director, chief, or chairperson, whichever way you want to be referred to, the most important thing is to be a leader. Every good leader is a good servant. If you’re unable to serve, then you’re unable to lead; you should look at the role you occupy as a privilege and not a right. That way you will be humble. I don’t need to tell you that humility translates to amazing leadership more than half of the time. This theory applies the same way in romantic relationships.