Love languages in the workplace
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For many of us Valentine’s Day is a time to show that special someone how much we love them (or just one more section of the supermarket taken up by cards and gifts). However you view this romantic time of year, any time is a good time to show your colleagues some appreciation and that’s why we’ll be looking at how the 5 Love Languages can be applied in the workplace.

What Are The 5 Love Languages?

This concept was first explored in “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate”, written by Dr. Gary Chapman, a marriage counsellor, and first published in 1992.  It’s aimed at improving relationships by helping partners to express their appreciation of each other more effectively, and it’s sold over 20 million copies.

Specifically, the Love Languages are:

Words of Affirmation

For those whose primary love language is words of affirmation, verbal communication is the most important factor in them feeling loved and appreciated. Compliments, expressions of gratitude, and words of support are highly significant to them.

Acts of Service

Actions speak louder than words for some people, and those for whom acts of service are their preferred love language find love and connection through helpful actions and gestures.

Receiving Gifts

It’s not about the material value of the presents but more about the thought, feeling and effort put into choosing the gift or coming up with the idea.

Quality Time

Individuals who prize quality time above all else feel most loved when they receive the undivided attention and genuine presence from their partner.

Physical Touch

Unsurprisingly, physical touch as a love language is about physical contact, hugs, cuddles, holding hands.  A sense of connection, warmth and comfort can come through physical touch.

What’s This Got To Do With The Workplace

It’s a good question.  However, whilst the concept developed through Chapman’s focus on romantic relationships, as the theory gained popularity it started to be applied in a wider context.  We all know that people like to be appreciated for their contribution at work, and that this can play an important role in employee retention and engagement.

Dr. Chapman teamed up Dr. Paul White to explore this further in the “The 5 Languages Of Appreciation In The Workplace”, first published in 2011.

Adapting The Theory To The World Of Work

Whilst there are clearly benefits to be gained from showing appreciation for employees and colleagues, you wouldn’t want to do so in exactly the same way as you would for your partner (or you might find yourself in front of an Employment Tribunal – particularly when it comes to Physical Touch).

Let’s consider some examples of how the Love Languages can be applied at work:

Words of Affirmation can boost morale, build trust and improve relationships within teams.  This can be done verbally or in writing and it’s likely to carry more weight and come across as more sincere if it focuses on something specific that the individual did, i.e. “I thought your presentation was really engaging, everyone seemed enthralled” rather than just being a general compliment, “Well done today”.

For those who believe that actions speak louder than words, Acts of Service can be a great way to show them that they are valued.  This could be something as simply stepping in to help them when their workload looks like it might get out of hand. It could be doing the tasks yourself, collaborating to spread the load, or taking away other more menial tasks to allow the concentrate on the project at hand.  Whatever it is that you do, acts of service can help to enhance team spirit and show that you’re all in this together.

As with relationships, Receiving Gifts is often more about the thought that has gone into the gift than the monetary value.  It could be to celebrate their birthday, an important employment milestone, or an exceptional result for the business.  Buying the right gift that will really mean something to the person in question can demonstrate that you care and that they are valued.  This kind of thing can play an important role in team bonding.

Quality Time at work counts and it can be as simple as speaking with someone face to face about an issue (even over Zoom/Teams/Google) rather than sending them an email.  This allows for better two-way communication; it can help to strengthen or build relationships and taking the time to do it in person can help to show your colleagues/employees that they are valued and respected.

Physical Touch in the workplace should certainly be approached with caution, but that doesn’t mean the final love language should be ignored; maybe we should call it ‘Appropriate’ Physical Touch instead.  This could be a simple as a handshake, or it could be a high-five or a hug.  You should check that it’s consensual first, “Should we high-five?”, “Can I hug you?” and always accept and respect “No” as a reply (and be aware of body language too).  You also need to be sensitive to cultural differences in relation to physical contact.

[If you’re not a physical person don’t be afraid to say things like “I’m not a hugger, but it is a job well done!”, “No, but thanks for asking first.”, but even just “No.” is enough].  There are also non-physical ways to connect with colleagues on an emotional level; get to know them personally, what are their interests/hobbies, take an interest in their emotional state, ask them how they are.  Just knowing your employees/colleagues better can develop stronger bonds and improve teamwork.

Summary

The approach is not without criticism, and it’s certainly not perfect.

However, many do find it interesting and useful, and even if you don’t think it’s for you, it would seem logical that showing your colleagues that are valued in a way that means something to them, is likely to be beneficial in improving communication and morale.  Even giving some consideration to how you appreciate your colleagues and employees for the work that they do can only be a good thing when it comes to improving how we work together and how we keep workforces engaged.

If you are at all interested in finding out what your preferred love language is, you can take the original quiz here: The Love Language® Quiz (5lovelanguages.com), and you’ll also find the workplace equivalent quiz online too.      

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