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The 5 Languages Of Appreciation In The High-Tech Industry: A Tool For Engineers To Grow Soft Skills

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Dr. Paul White

High-tech companies are known to offer competitive financial rewards and employee recognition programs to encourage and motivate employees to keep delivering high quality work.

To some extent these performance management programs have been effective. For example, eCard Shack’s infographic reveals that young and inexperienced employees across high-tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple experience high levels of job satisfaction, mainly as a result of being highly paid. However, as employees mature and stay longer in those companies, the level of job satisfaction decreases substantially. Additionally, recent “chinks in the armor” have been exposed in the work cultures at Google and other companies in Silicon Valley.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace highlights the need to value an employee as a whole individual. This means valuing individuals both for the quality of the work they deliver, and for the values and attitudes they demonstrate while carrying out their work. In contrast, traditional reward and recognition programs typically focus on quality (and volume) of work delivered.

Core Principles for Effectively Communicating Employee Appreciation

The core tenets of communicating authentic appreciation and recognition in the workplace include:

*Recognizing that not everyone feels appreciated in the same way.  People have unique ways in which they feel valued. Not everyone values verbal praise or feels appreciated when they receive a gift or reward. While most staff recognition programs focus on these actions, over 50% of employees indicate they prefer different forms of appreciation.

*Team members desire appreciation from both supervisors and colleagues. In the past, employees’ relationships with their supervisor was the primary focus of staff recognition.  But with the increased desire to work collegially with others, peer to peer recognition from co-workers as well as supervisors is important to employees.      

*Verbal praise needs to be specific and personal.  The most common mistake supervisors make is that their verbal compliments are general and impersonal. Blast emails frequently are sent, like:  “Good job. Way to go team.” But these forms of employee recognition have no specific meaning to the individual who stayed late to get the project completed. Using your colleague’s name and telling them specifically why you appreciate them when providing recognition in the workplace makes the message more impactful.

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       *Realize that other types of actions can be more impactful than words for many people. Many people have grown to not believe compliments from others, expecting them primarily to be an act of manipulation. Other actions can be more impactful for these individuals, like spending time with them or helping them get a task done.

       *Use the language of appreciation valued by the recipient. A key interpersonal skill is perspective-taking ability – being able to view situations from others’ points of view. To be able to lead teams effectively, managers need to understand that their team members may not feel supported in the same ways as they do. For many introverts, going to a team building activity at work is more like torture than a reward for doing a good job. In contrast, they may prefer getting a gift card for a bookstore and staying at home and reading as their form of reward and recognition.  

       *Separate affirmation from constructive criticism or instruction. If you want the positive message to be heard “loud and clear,” don’t follow your affirmation with a “Now, if you would only…” message. Don’t give them a compliment and then tell them how they could do the task better. They will only remember the examples of “constructive” criticism, and may not even hear the positive evaluation comments.

       *Absolutely be genuine with your staff recognition. Don’t try to fake it, or overstate your appreciation (“You are the best software bug finder in the world!”) People want appreciation to be genuine, not contrived.

Languages of Employee Appreciation as a Tool to Build Soft Skills

Naturally, when tech-oriented employees are hired (and promoted), the focus is primarily on their technical and execution skills, and their soft skills (or, people skills) receive less attention.

The deficiency in soft skills among tech managers may be attributed to the work culture in high-tech industries which emphasize competitiveness, innovation, and above all results. As engineers transition from individual contributor to technical lead or manager roles, their soft skills become as important as their hard skills. The reality, however, is that engineers rise to these leadership roles by demonstrating superior technical competence, though very often lacking in soft skills that promote a positive attitude in the workplace.

We believe that perspective-taking ability and showing empathy for others is at the core of soft skills development.  

The 5 languages of employee appreciation are a structured approach to develop and improve soft skills that appeals to an engineer’s mindset, accustomed to algorithms and formulas to solve problems in the workplace. The languages of staff appreciation are a tool that can be used by any employee, regardless of seniority level and independent of leadership or management roles.

Engineers are motivated by interesting and challenging problems, which the expanding applications of high technology generate. But high-tech employees are also motivated by a fun work environment, where rewards and recognition abound. Learning how to express authentic appreciation and establish an effective employee rewards system helps create a positive organizational culture that enables team members to feel enjoyment in their work in addition to the satisfaction experienced from solving challenging problems.

Ana Pazos HeadshotAna Pazos is an electronics engineer with a Ph.D. in Computer Science and 15+ years of industry experience in dynamic and static compiler technology, operating systems and multimedia frameworks, currently working as a Senior Staff Compiler Engineer Technical Lead at Qualcomm Innovation Center, Inc.

Dr. Paul White HeadshotDr. Paul White is an author, speaker and psychologist, who helps “make work relationships work”.  He is the coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman and his new book, The Vibrant Workplace, has just released and is available online and in stores. For more information, go to

Image Credit: Luigi Mengato