The ‘5 Love Languages’ at work

Dorie Fain
Dorie Fain is the founder and CEO of &Wealth, a boutique financial advisory firm dedicated to helping women who are recreating their lives, with offices in New York City and Baltimore.

Published 2/23/2020 in The Maryland Daily Record 

Fitting for the month of Valentine’s Day, a recent employee interaction reminded me of the lessons that I learned from reading the book “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman.

The original book, “The 5 Love Languages,” was intended for couples who were struggling to navigate their way through marriage counseling. Chapman compiled notes of nearly 15 years of counseling couples and found that problems in communication fell in five general categories that he named the Love Languages.

The general concept is that each of us expresses love and appreciation in the ways in which we most feel loved and appreciated. Most often, we are attracted to those somewhat if not fully opposite of ourselves, yet we often expect that our partners will communicate in exactly the same way that we do.

Once Chapman began to see and understand this pattern, his transformative book helped millions of others begin to learn a new language, called the Love Language.

This dynamic is also true within our professional relationships with our colleagues. While not an intimate romantic relationship, the dynamic between managers, employees and coworkers is equally as important to preserve for the well-being of the team and overall mission — especially given that 25% of all employees will leave within their first year with a company.

The cost of hiring and retaining talent extends far beyond the monetary impact. The time and energy expended on these new employees are valued resources. With better training and awareness, these can be harnessed to yield far more gratifying productive relationships in the workplace.

To summarize the 5 Love Languages, called the Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace:

  • Words of affirmation: “You’re amazing! Keep up the GREAT work! This team couldn’t thrive without you!”
  • Quality time: “ How about meeting over lunch to celebrate your success on that project?”
  • Acts of service”: “ I can see how busy your schedule is today so I printed the packets that you will need for your 3pm.”
  • Tangible gifts: “ I brought you this gift from my vacation, I know how much you love to learn about new ski mountains.”
  • Appropriate physical touch: “ A firm handshake (or hug in our office) to show appreciation for an extra effort to meet a deadline.” (It’s tricky to navigate what is actually appropriate touch in the workplace. My suggestion is to simply ask the person )

How to celebrate?

These are so simple. Despite how easy this seems, too often the boss celebrates in the way he or she feels most celebrated.

Birthdays are a huge example of the hit-or-miss within the office place. A simple card with encouraging words works for one, while another may only really value a time during the day for cake with the office team. The miss on these interactions is critical because it leaves us feeling misunderstood and that our workplace doesn’t care about who we are as individuals.

I know that as a business owner, customization can be difficult to sustain. As a result, we tend to default to one size fits all. However, it wouldn’t take much to ask for employee input.

Another statistic that really surprised me relates to the employee onboarding experience. Seventy-six percent of employees are more likely to stay three years based on a positive onboarding experience.

This is huge! If we know that 25% of all employees leave within the first year, imagine shifting this completely, based on the first 90 days that an employee is onboard.

The knowledge and the understanding that people feel appreciated in one of five general ways makes for an easy onboarding exercise; simply ask employees to tell you us how they want to be appreciated when having a job well done.

Why don’t more employers ask when collectively we know that employee satisfaction is so critical to our success? The simplest answer is that it is hard to do. It isn’t easy to learn a new way of expression. It isn’t natural, takes more effort and often seems daunting to guess what another would want by way of appreciation.

Chapman has shared a great deal of his findings in this area. He says that it takes practice and the more we do these things that don’t feel natural, the greater the benefit back.

I heard him quoted in an interview when asked about how to get started. He said that if words of affirmation are hard to get out, practice saying what you hear others say in front of a mirror, work up the courage to say these affirming words to the person who is motivated by hearing words of affirmation and then run the other direction.

It may not be perfect but at least it’s a start.

Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth