In 1992 Gary Chapman wrote about the five love languages for romantic partnerships and he took the world by storm. In 2012 he wrote about the five languages as they apply to work with barely a blip – to be honest I had no idea he had co-authored a book about languages for work until I started researching for this article. The five language are: Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Tangible Gifts, and Appropriate Physical Touch
During the pandemic I often thought about this concept and discussed it with a few collogues. I wondered if the five love languages were mapped to the work environment, how were people doing in a remote work environment. Often I found that my peers tended to focus on the E (Extrovert) verses the I (Introvert) of Myers-Briggs. We had several discussions throughout lockdown about whether or not there was digital extroverts and introverts – I really want to study this theory more in the future. Back to languages of appreciation at work. How does that impact remote and hybrid work? In the modern digital world understanding your people is more important than ever.
Spending time and getting to know your team members has been a challenge for some leaders in remote and hybrid work environments, especially since the start of the pandemic. Having a better understanding of how your team members want to be appreciated can help you to tailor your leadership to meet your members needs. It is important to remember that this is just one of many tools to better understand the people that we work with and this tool should be used as part of your leadership tool kit.
Acts of Service
Acts of service are doing something that will make life easier or more enjoyable for your coworkers. In the prepandemic era that might have included bringing in donuts to work or decorating the office for holiday cheer. Prior to the pandemic I was a champion of bringing in homemade baked goods to the office.
During the pandemic when remote work was at high levels this might be the person sharing articles or arranging online team building activities. The bonus of an article or online team building is less calories than bagels with cream cheese. In the hybrid world of today and the future acts of service is a language that appears to be adaptable and might be the ideal candidate to seek when planning for an onsite workshop with your hybrid team.
Quality time is about spending time together even if you are doing completely separate things. Prior to the pandemic a lot of offices were developed in open layouts, especially in the tech industry. It was believed that members could overhear each other and improve collaboration. Another opinion is that if you tell your coworker your goal, to finish a memo for example, that this accountability would be a check and balance among team members.
Many felt that shared quality time was missing in the early days of the pandemic and decided to change this. Virtual coworking sessions became a virtual option during the pandemic. I recently attended a session for Positively Powered Authors and met my goal of writing a blog post in the hour and a half time frame. The format for most virtual coworker sessions is a statement from each person on what they want to achieve, some light music or silence, and a wrap up session of what you did achieve.
Words of Affirmation
I have to be honest that this is my language – I didn’t miss a beat during the pandemic. I actually found that seeing the words in chat or an email were more powerful when compared to hearing them for only a fleeting second. When I felt discouraged, I could reread an email from a colleague expressing their apperception on a work product and this helped me to keep inspired. Leading with gratitude is so important and during the pandemic most leaders understood the importance of grateful leadership.
Leaders may find that some employees prefer the written word over audible appreciation or vice a versa. A classic thank you note is timeless and can have a disproportionate impact when compared to the monetary value.
Gifts prior to the pandemic may have included monetary awards, time off, trips, appliances, and even cars. The pandemic did not require a significant change for tangible gifts. Many organizations rewarded employees with workforce appreciation bonuses during the pandemic. If gifting is your work appreciation language you are in a good place in a physical, virtual, or hybrid team.
Leaders should find out if team members have gift preferences. Do some employees prefer physical gifts and others prefer gift cards? Is a time off award considered a gift? It is important to understand the details regarding gifts to ensure team members are getting their needs met.
Appropriate Physical Touch
Physical touch took a major hit during the pandemic and those craving this as a language of appreciation may still not be getting the energy points they need. As someone who ranks physical touch as the bottom of my work languages I have been campaigning to bring back the curtsey and the bow as an appropriate non-physical touch greeting.
I once had a coworker say “the pandemic has denied me body language.” That was a big shock to me. I realized that not everyone is adverse to physical touch and some may actually have this as their number one language. This is by far the hardest to achieve in a remote or hybrid world.
As a leader understanding that a person may have a workplace that is difficult to satisfy in a remote and hybrid working environment is important. A leader may be able to reward a person high in this area with conference attendance where they are more likely to encounter others with the same values.
As a leader understanding your team members and their work appreciation languages can assist you as you prioritize work in the modern hybrid and remote workplace. Look for how to take a trait that you may find negative and turn it into a positive for example if you have a member who is high on acts of service, don’t consider them invasive, look at how you can put them to work.
Share a few articles that are relevant to your team members for those are high on service. Hold a few coworking sessions for your team members who are high on shared quality time. Praise your team members who are high on words of affirmation and this includes written texts and emails. If you have limited bonuses apply more to those that value tangible gifts. For your employees who are high on physical touch, arrange opportunities where you can shake hands and spend time sitting around an old fashioned table.
Remember that each team member is unique and rarely does one size fit all. Try using different techniques with your teams and find out how they respond. The environments where work takes place may have changed but people are fundamentally the same. People want to feel valued now more than ever and have proven they will seek out leaders who fulfill their intrinsic needs.