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Put it In a Love Song: How The Great Resignation is Changing Workplace Appreciation
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Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

The Great Resignation is upon us and likely to continue for several months as professionals across an array of sectors reassess what they need for balance, flexibility, and psychological safety.

I have felt refreshed by reading the shifting tide of workplace culture discourse on LinkedIn. Some professionals have shared reflections on having more time with family because of remote work; decreased commuting times affording the opportunity to care for and spend time with loved ones. Others have expressed concerns about a “return to work” because the return feels unsafe and unhealthy due to experience with racial microaggressions in the workplace. For many people of color, especially Black professionals, working during the pandemic with racial injustice on mass display was traumatic. A “return” is an unwelcomed and understandably aftershock. In Lil Jon’s words, “return to/for what?”

Leaders Who Demonstrate Care Support Employee Retention

Catalyst recently released a report on how empathetic leaders can help drive employee engagement and innovation and specifically help reduce intent to leave and burnout for women of color. They note that an “empathic leader is a leader who demonstrates care, concern, and understanding for employees’ life circumstances”. The key action word here is demonstrates.

If You’re Satisfied in Your Job, You’ll Stay.

Gary Chapman and Paul White, authors of The 5 Love Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People note that “..across numerous occupations and industries, the degree to which an individual finds satisfaction in his or her current position has consistently been found to be one of the best predictors of long-term employment.” They expand upon what’s needed to bridge the gap in worker satisfaction by suggesting, “...communicating appreciation within work-oriented relationships has been shown to improve the quality of relationships between workers and their supervisors, and also among coworkers.”

The 5 Languages of Appreciation at Work

If you’ve taken the 5 Love Languages survey, this framework will be familiar. Different from the 5 Love Languages survey, here is how the 5 Languages At Work apply:

1. Words of Affirmation which uses words to communicate a positive message to another person which can be expressed in the following ways:

  • - Praise for accomplishments administered verbally and advisably specific to the employee/team member about a specific task or behavior
  • - Affirmation for character which looks beyond performance and focuses on the inner nature of a person
  • - Focusing on positive personality traits like optimistic, doer and intuitive.

Chapman and White strongly advise that “if you are not able to sincerely express affirmation to your colleague, then silence is preferred until you are able to communicate with integrity and a positive attitude.” In other words, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

2. Quality Time is powerful and yet often misunderstood by managers. Chapman and White clarify that this appreciation language is carried out by giving the person your undivided attention. This language has a few dialects that are most effective with active listening skills. They include quality conversation, shared experiences, small group dialogue, and working in close physical proximity with coworkers in accomplishing a project. The latter may require more agility in remote work environments. (We’re not generally advocating Zoom co-working sessions, but it might be what you or your team needs to adapt!)

3. Acts of Service is emblematic of servant leadership. Those that have this as their primary language appreciate it when others step in to support them on projects. Chapman and White recommend that managers and colleagues serve voluntarily, check their attitude, and ask before they help.

4. Tangible Gifts are different from raises and bonuses. In reality, “most organizations can’t afford to reward good employee performance with financial rewards that add up over time.” As with the other languages, this applies only to those who speak this language. Additionally, it is an effective expression when the gift is one the recipient would value. One would gauge what’s appropriate through relationship building. If you don’t know ask.  If you’re not sure how to start that conversation, start by asking about the most meaningful gifts someone has received.

5. Physical Touch Appropriate touch is a tough one to implement in a pandemic, although I can’t really write about the 5 languages without including the fifth one. This language is one to approach cautiously in general. Handshakes may feel unsafe now. Elbow taps might be fine, although oh-so-awkward! If you’re working in person together, we like fist bumps and high-fives, but maybe wait and see how things are going. And make sure you know this is someone’s language before you approach.

Find Your Own Language of Appreciation

In writing this I was inspired by the amazing Alicia Keys’, “Put It In A Love Song”. You read that correctly. Alicia and Beyonce offer some key recommendations including: “Say you need me, Say you need me, Then write it in a letter for me”. There goes "Words of Affirmation" courtesy of some R&B greats.

Here’s a challenge that I invite you to accept. Select one of your favorite “love” songs. Superimpose the lyrics to apply to the workplace. What does it express about your workplace appreciation?

I accepted the challenge for myself and have the one and only R&B group Xscape as a backdrop to this article. You can thank me now or later for never hearing these songs the same again. I dedicate this to you, you, and you too.

“I don’t mean to be demanding but I want some understanding...What I need from you is understanding, how can we communicate, if you don’t hear what I say?.....it’s so simple as 123, understanding is all WE need”. Managers are you listening? If not, as Kandi Burruss bellows, “I tried so very hard to keep our love alive but you don’t want to meet me halfway, then the understanding dies”. You don’t want that now do you? One thing is for sure, you won’t be able to escape the reality that people need and deserve job satisfaction. Alicia Keys and Beyonce further echo “If you want my (our) love and all my (our) time, Part of my (our) plans and part of my (our) mind, All of the things that you wanna do, But make sure your love for me is (us is) true to you”. Work it out!

Practice Using Languages of Appreciation

Managers and managers-in-training may want to consider how they shift their focus to showing appreciation in the workplace since the last few years have been so challenging.  Additionally, being patient with the receptivity of staff is also important. If a colleague has reservations about your intent, this exploration and expression may be harder to implement. Whether you choose to explore the languages of appreciation as a team or independently, I encourage you to consider the things that would make you feel appreciated, seen, and heard in the workplace and start a broader conversation with your team.

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Additional Reading:

How to Find a Role Where You Belong and Create or Lead an Inclusive Team

Free Quiz: Does Your Career Spark Joy?

Published on 10/27/2021