How to Utilize the 5 Languages of Appreciation to Boost Morale Virtually

When was the last time you felt truly appreciated? As it turns out, there is some science behind what brings about that feeling.

The research of Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White shows that appreciation in the workplace is directly connected to employee satisfaction and turnover rates. Their research is explained in their book The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, an offshoot of Dr. Chapman’s work on The Five Love Languages.

The Importance of Appreciation

In order to understand the importance of appreciation, you need to know the difference between appreciation and recognition. Here are the definitions provided by Drs. Chapman and White:

Recognition: Acknowledgment of an achievement, service, or ability, often through formal structure awards

Appreciation: Communicating a sense of value for the work someone does and the character qualities that they demonstrate

Acknowledging that someone did a good job is not as impactful for the recipient as having the giver attach value to their work. This concept is the foundation for all five Languages of Appreciation. 

Consider what Steven Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (emphasis added):

“Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”

Learning about the Five Languages of Appreciation allows you to:

  • Individualize your feedback
  • Make your team members feel valued
  • Create an enjoyable work and learning environment

Here are some ways to incorporate these ideas virtually.

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation can be communicated both verbally and in writing. Consider these venues for appreciating others:

  • Privately: This could be during a regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting or in an email. Some people do not like to be praised in front of others and prefer you be more subtle. The easiest way to figure out someone’s preference is to ask them as a part of the onboarding process or during a team retreat.
  • In front of teammates: During a department or student organization meeting, you can offer praise to your coworkers or supervisees for a job well done. In addition, you could reserve some time during the meeting for team members to offer kudos to each other, highlighting accomplishments big and small.
  • Publicly: If someone truly loves being in the spotlight, some public appreciation might be in order. Some places wherein recognition could be made public are through an announcement on your department’s website, shout outs on social media, and email blasts that go out to the entire institution.

Remember, for appreciation to be effective, it must be specific. Point out the precise elements of an event that you were impressed by (such as high attendance numbers, flawless logistics, or great volunteer engagement) or something innovative that the person you’re appreciating contributed to a project.

Acts of Service

Acts of service can be any size; what matters most is that they mean something to the receiver. 

Before performing any act of service as a method of appreciation, be sure to ask the recipient what they would like you to do and how they want it done. 

Performing an act of service without consulting with the recipient is kind of like painting someone’s house in a color that they don’t like; the fact that you did it for free will be a moot point.

Here are some acts of service to consider:

  • Offering to run a team meeting for the recipient
  • Typing up the report for a project you worked on together
  • Pitching in with talents that you have, such as designing a flyer for the recipient’s upcoming program

Always follow through on your promises when you say that you will help with something. You don’t want your act of service to have a negative impact because you didn’t complete the task.


Giving a gift as a form of appreciation can be tricky. It can be challenging to think of a gift that the recipient will value. You may also have to review your institution’s rules about giving gifts, especially if you plan to purchase it using departmental funds.

Keep in mind that the gift doesn’t have to be expensive or attention-grabbing. The thought behind the gift is usually more important than the gift itself. Ask yourself: What will hold personal value for the recipient?

You can consider small items that would be useful in a home office, such as coffee beans, candles, chargers, or adapters. You can ship these items directly to the recipient from an online store. Digital gift cards and subscriptions are also great options.

Whether the gift is physical or virtual, consider sending a thank-you note along with it. A note can help personalize the gift and provide a more permanent reminder of your appreciation.

Quality Time

Quality time is about giving the recipient your undivided attention, whether it is just a few minutes catching up or an hour-long one-on-one meeting. For someone whose Language of Appreciation is quality time, there is no better feeling than knowing that someone cares enough about you enough to dedicate some of their busy schedule solely to you.

Quality time looks a little different for everyone. It may include making time for conversations about topics that are important to the recipient or doing a virtual activity together, such as any from this list

Quality time could also be spontaneous instead of scheduled, like giving someone a surprise phone call to check in with them. (This also reduces Zoom fatigue!)

Physical Touch

For people who thrive off of hugs, handshakes, and pats on the back, working virtually or in a socially distanced setting can be tough.

Eliza Kingsford, a licenced professional counselor, says this about coping with a lack of physical touch when it isn’t safe to do so:

“If it isn’t safe to focus on your primary love language right now, double down on your secondary language.”

So, be sure to find out what everyone’s primary and secondary Language of Appreciation is. A smart tactic is to have your co-workers take this Languages of Appreciation quiz. When the scores for each language are added up, you may even find that some people are “bilingual”! 

Even if you can’t actually do the action, you could still send emojis of high-fives and fist bumps in emails and text chats to let the recipient know that you are thinking of them and would give them a high-five if you could.

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For more ideas o how to appreciate students and co-workers, check out How to Use the 5 Love Languages in Student Affairs and 28 Thoughtful Ways to Appreciate Your RAs. Many of these ideas translate well into a virtual environment.

The book How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton is another great read on this topic.

Showing appreciation to teammates should be done deliberately and frequently. This is especially important when you don’t see your coworkers and students as often when working from home and usually from behind a computer screen.

How have you incorporated the Languages of Appreciation into your virtual work? We’d love to hear your ideas! Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence and @justinterlisner.

Justin Terlisner

About the author: Justin Terlisner is a student affairs professional who focuses on helping students thrive through dynamic leadership education and inclusive supervision practices. When not writing curriculum or working with students, you’ll find him enjoying a book, hiking, or baking. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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