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Actions Speak Louder: Delving into Acts of Service as a Language of Appreciation

By Melanie Anderson, Director of Innovation and Expansion

Several years ago, Compass made a commitment to learning about and investing in employee engagement.  It seemed that at times there was a concerning gap wherein employees did not consistently feel appreciated, but supervisors thought they were participating in great effort to help employees feel valued and seen.  We wanted to learn more about engagement and appreciation, so we invested in consulting and training which led us to The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

The Book

The book, written by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White, is based on their previous work on Love Languages.  The basic premise is that we each have primary channels through which we experience and feel love and the same concept applies to how we communicate and feel appreciation at work.  The five languages of appreciation at work are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts and Physical Touch

New Employee Training

We offered training on Languages of Appreciation, invested in surveys so people could find out what their primary language of Appreciation is, added the concept to new employee orientation and it has remained a pivotal influence on our organizational culture.  

What is your language?

Do you know what your language of appreciation is?  Click here to take a brief survey.

We are going to highlight a language of appreciation each quarter.  We have blind spots to appreciation languages that are not our primary ways of receiving appreciation so it is helpful to spend time periodically thinking about how we can honor others.

The 5th Language

The 5th language of appreciation is physical touch however in a professional environment, this appreciation language is simplified and quite frankly minimized.  People who have Physical Touch as their primary Love language in their personal life do not expect this kind of experience in a work setting.  Physical touch in our work world is more like a celebratory high five or an occasional contextual hug, perhaps in celebration or comfort during difficult times.  You may experience coworkers with physical touch as a primary love language to be more physical in general…they reach out with their hands during conversation or lightly smack your arm when laughing and they give the “touch” a second thought.  Since Physical Touch as an appreciation language is not fully expressed in professional settings, we will not be further discussing it.

Acts of Service

This quarter we will highlight Acts of Service as an appreciation language.  For some people appreciation is felt more through action than words.  Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Providing services, especially without being asked or expecting something in return, displays respect and helps deepen connections. Your Acts of Service co-workers feel appreciated when they hear “what can I do to help you” and then you follow through based on their response.  When you show up to make the load lighter it fills their bucket. 

Ask First

Ask before you help and do so willingly, not begrudgingly.  A critical element though is that the help you offer needs to be truly helpful in their perspective.  Let’s say a coworker with Acts of Service as a primary language of appreciation is visibly overwhelmed and simply has too much on their plate.  You know they need to finish a power point for an upcoming Manager Meeting, and you have that skill set so you offer to finish the power point for them.  If you make changes that weren’t discussed or come back with a list of ways it could be improved or a lot of “what if you added this?”, it will likely not be experienced as appreciation since the service is being done your way and not theirs.  

“Don’t tell me you care, show me.”

Here are a few ideas and ways to show appreciation to a coworker through Acts of Service:

  •     Offer specific and concrete task assistance
  •     Ask how they want something done
  •     If they are entrenched in a project and decline to delegate, bring them food or coffee to help them get through the project completion
  •     Offer to help with a specific task they are less confident about (set up the spreadsheet template for them, show up to their presentation and be their tech troubleshooter)
  •     Say something like, “I want to help… what would feel like support right now?”
  •     Follow through with your task on a shared project
  •     Make their request a high priority and get it to them ahead of schedule
  •     Run an errand for them
  •     Make a playlist for them to keep them going during a long day 
  •     To celebrate a birthday, success or promotion, make them a custom coupon booklet
  •     Do not complain about the help you offered or tell a bunch of people you did it
  •     Offer to do a simpler task so they can focus on something that is high priority
  •     Be willing to do something less fun like clean up a spill or take out trash
  •     Do a specific task you know they really dislike doing
  •     Show up to help even though it is not your responsibility
  •     Offer to be a test audience for them so they can practice
  •     Send them an article or link to information you think could be useful for a project they are working on
  •     Offer acts of service without expecting anything in return or having a hidden agenda


“To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.”



One response to “Actions Speak Louder: Delving into Acts of Service as a Language of Appreciation

  1. Melanie, thanks for bringing attention to our work with the 5 languages of appreciation. The specific examples you share are helpful. We’ve learned that this appreciation language is the one most impacted by a person’s industry and role — which means the action really has to match the context of the team member. Thanks again! Dr. Paul

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