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Love Languages and Appreciation in the Workplace

How can we best show our appreciation for those in our workplace?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our lifestyles and workplace environments have changed dramatically. In these moments of change, how can we show those in our workplace the appreciation that they desire most? In this interview, Paul White shares from his expansive research how we can use the desired love languages of others to show them our appreciation, especially during the pandemic.

Paul White, Used With Permission
Source: Paul White, Used With Permission

Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, researcher, and leadership trainer who “makes work relationships work”. Dr. White is the co-author of the best-selling, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, which has sold over 500,000 copies (written with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages). He has written articles for, and has been interviewed by, BusinessWeek, CNN/Fortune, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, U.S. News and World Report, and The Washington Post. His expertise has been requested by NASA, the Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, Facebook, and numerous other national and multinational organizations.

This is Part 1 of a two-part interview with Dr. Paul White; you can find Part 2 of this series, along with all other Hope + Resilience posts, here.

Jamie Aten: How did you first get interested in this topic?

Paul White: I’ve been involved in improving workplace cultures and teaching employees how to communicate authentic appreciation for several years, applying the five love languages to work-based relationships. We developed an online assessment to identify each person’s preferred language of appreciation, which over 275,000 employees have taken worldwide. We then created training resources to help leaders and employees learn how to communicate appreciation in the ways that are most meaningful to the recipient.

A few years ago we published research comparing the different ways remote and onsite employees prefer to be shown appreciation (prior to COVID-19). Once the pandemic hit and millions more employees started working remotely, and from home, we wanted to see if the new remote workers desired appreciation differently from the “career” remote employees.

Additionally, the topic of possible differences in how various age groups prefer to be appreciated is frequently raised. We previously explored this, comparing Millennials to older employees, but thought it would be good to revisit this issue, which we did in the current study.

We thought it was important to investigate any changes among the various groups—pre-COVID versus during-COVID-19 employees, remote versus onsite employees, and also across age groups.

JA: What was the focus of your study?

PW: The underlying question: Do individuals’ ways of wanting to be shown appreciation shift as a result of changes in their environment? With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant transformation occurred in the workforce; some people working from home, others continuing to work onsite, some became unemployed, and some worked a hybrid schedule. Additionally, other sources of stress were added during the pandemic—social isolation, children educated virtually from home, loss of loved ones, fear for one’s (and one’s family’s) health.

We have had a large number of people take our Motivating By Appreciation Inventory, and they continued to do so during the pandemic. Since we have a version that is designed specifically for remote work relationships (as opposed to a general onsite work relationship), we had the capability of looking at various groups of employees and the frequency they chose, the different appreciation languages as their Primary Language of Appreciation. As a result, we conducted a statistical analysis of over 200,000 respondents’ results, comparing individuals based on three variables:

  1. Pre-COVID-19 responses with during-COVID-19 responses
  2. Whether the employee worked in a remote or onsite setting
  3. Comparing employees across age groups

JA: What did you discover in your study?

PW: First, we found that the location (remote, onsite) had virtually no impact on how employees preferred to be shown appreciation. Tangible gifts were consistently the lowest chosen language (only 6 percent of employees) and the Acts of Service language was chosen by approximately one out of five employees for both groups. Quality Time did increase for remote employees (from 26 percent for onsite to 35 percent for remote employees) and Words declined slightly (46 percent for onsite; 40 percent for remote).

Secondly, we discovered that there was essentially no difference at all in the appreciation language preferences between pre-COVID-19 employees and during-COVID-19 employees. The frequencies of appreciation language choices were almost exactly the same.

When looking at patterns across age groups (grouped by decades (< 20 years old, 20-29, 30-39, etc.), some slight trends emerged. Quality Time grew in preference the younger the employee was (to 37 percent for those under 20). Conversely, Words of Affirmation were desired less by the youngest employees and more valued the older the employee became (to >50 percent by those over 70). Similarly, Acts of Service tended to increase slightly as the employees were older (from 17 percent of teens to 23 percent for those employees between 40-69 years old).

JA: Is there anything that surprised you in your findings, or that you weren't fully expecting?

PW: One highly significant theme emerged: for most people, the way they prefer to be shown appreciation is largely (and deeply) a characteristic of who they are. And this preference persists across significant environmental factors, whether working remotely or onsite and/or in the midst of an important societal event. (Here, the pandemic with all of the changes that occurred in people’s daily lives.)

Since people’s lives were disrupted and constrained so much during the pandemic, we thought that people may choose Quality Time more frequently while going through the pandemic (in contrast to their preference prior to COVID-19). But this was not the case. This could be a possible result from being so focused on surviving the day-to-day challenges of life and also reducing their expectations for social interaction given the “stay at home” orders during this timeframe.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series, along with all other Hope + Resilience posts, here.


White, P. “Exploring Remote and Onsite Employees’ Preferred Appreciation Languages Prior to COVID-19 and During COVID-19". (2021). Strategic HR Review, in press.*

White, P. “The COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Everything About Work … Except How People Want to Be Shown Appreciation”. Training Industry