Have you ever been in a situation at work where you just can’t figure out what motivates someone?

Consider this: you have two employees who share the same job. Let’s call them John and Jane. They have the same duties, same daily responsibilities, and work with the same teammates. Jane is highly motivated and continually achieving exactly what you request of her. You set daily operations meeting first thing every morning to set targets and goals for the day and this has proven to get the results you need out of Jane. You are committed to ensuring your team is working cohesively so ensure you make time to have lunch with the employees and even schedule monthly team-outings. John, on the other hand, is more than capable of meeting these targets and even outperforming Jane, but doesn’t have the same consistent results. John receives all the same instructions as Jane, he always participates in the operations meetings and team activities, but you just can’t figure out why his performance is inconsistent. Last month, you sat down with John and told him he was a star and you value him as an employee, everything was great after that meeting, he quickly moved to the head of the pack in terms of performance, but now it has tapered off again.

Have you been in this situation?

By all accounts, it sounds like you are committed to your team, you want to ensure the employees are engaged and supported and care about their success. So why is John not performing consistently?

John and Jane are motivated differently, and you have fallen into the one-size-fits-all leadership approach. Each of these employees requires a different method of appreciation to motivate them.

“The highest driver of engagement in whether workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their well-being”. How can employees be appreciated if you are not recognizing them in their language? Gary Chapman and Paul White discuss this very topic in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.


Just like in the 5 Languages of Love, these languages transfer to the workplace: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, tangible gifts, and physical touch.


Quality time refers to people who accept appreciation through quality time spent with their superiors and coworkers. Giving full, undivided attention to employees while both in a team or one-on-one setting is key to making them feel appreciated. Negative feelings can arise if not enough attention is given or if you seem distracted and not present.

Acts of service refer to people who accept and show appreciation by doing things. They believe that actions speak louder than words and want to see quality work being done. It may offend someone if a commitment to do work is made and doesn’t get done.

Words of affirmation mean that people will receive appreciation through words. Positive language and words of encouragement are needed to make some people feel wanted and appreciated in the workplace. Likewise, if too much negative language is used it can demotivate employees and make them feel isolated.

Tangible gifts are used for people who express their appreciation through giving and receiving gifts. This could be a dinner, tickets to a sporting event, or even a box of chocolates. When an employee does a good job it is best to give them a small gift instead of giving them praise.

Physical touch can be the main driver of appreciation for some people. Be careful, because this can be tricky to use in the workplace. A solid handshake or a pat on the back will let employees know that their work is appreciated, but doesn’t cross any workplace boundaries.


In our example, Jane definitely feels appreciated by quality time. She thrives on having daily operations meetings, enjoys team lunches and is encouraged by team outings. On the other side of the equation, John may enjoy these same things, but it is not what motivates him and makes him feel appreciated. He is driven by words of affirmation. He requires the individualized feedback he was given during her private meeting last month. Now that you understand each employee may require a different type of appreciation to stay motivated and feel engaged, think about how you show your appreciation to your team.


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