Is Appreciation Just An American Concept?

I have had the privilege of traveling internationally to numerous countries to introduce the concept of authentic appreciation in the workplace. Fortunately, authentic appreciation and vibrant workplaces aren’t limited to certain cultures. They exist on every inhabited continent. (Our book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, has been translated into 27 languages.)

Lessons from a Multinational Training Experience

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to train the management and supervisors of an elite international organization in how to communicate authentic appreciation to their staff. Functioning within the tourism and hospitality industries, the staff (in one location) come from over forty countries and six continents.

As I approached the training, I was interested to see the degree to which the staff desired to be appreciated for their work. Additionally, I wanted to find out how communicating appreciation in the workplace was expressed in different cultures. Finally, I was curious to learn various ways employees felt comfortable receiving appreciation and what the challenges might be due to differences in the variety of cultures (for example, British, Norwegian, Filipino, Colombian, South African, Indian, Irish, Egyptian and American).

What I Discovered

•    No Surprise – All cultures affirmed clearly that, yes, they would like to be valued for the work they do and have the appreciation communicated to them by their supervisors and colleagues.
•    Suspicion Confirmed – A few individuals reported that appreciation in the workplace was not part of their home culture (mainly northern European cultures—Finnish, German, etc.).  Appreciation from one’s supervisor was not expected by the employee nor did managers believe they should have to communicate appreciation.
•    An Affirmation – Having translated (both linguistically and culturally) our materials into various languages, I was fairly sure that there would differences in the type of appreciation desired by individuals from a variety cultural backgrounds. Most were familiar with the concept of saying, “Thank you” or “Good job.” But the idea that there were other ways of expressing appreciation (spending quality time, doing an act of service) was new to a number of them.
•    New Perspective – One interesting observation was that people have fairly strong opinions about what they did not like in how appreciation might be communicated by others. The Brits were repulsed by the repetitive kissing on the cheeks by the Southern Europeans (Portuguese, Italians). Many European women did not understand the purpose or meaning of “high 5’s” and “fist bumps” and the Filipinos did not understand (and sometimes were offended by) the humor used by the British, Irish, and Americans—which was often in intended as a way of communicating warmth and friendship by the senders, but was not received that way.

One of the encouraging aspects of the training was the feedback I received from the top executives down to the front-line supervisors. The most important concepts they valued included:

  • Not everyone feels appreciated in the same way;
  • There are alternative ways to communicate appreciation besides words (and words are not valued by everyone);
  • Communicating appreciation in the way that is valued by the recipient is critical, as opposed to what the sender prefers;
  • Perceived authenticity is key and can be a challenge in cross- cultural work relationships.

Roy Saunderson, a colleague who has done training on recognition and appreciation in Canada, the U. S., Europe, and the Middle East, made an interesting comment to me when we were discussing appreciation and cultural differences. He stated,

“Wherever I’ve gone, regardless of how warm and expressive or cool and distant a culture is—all the employees I interacted with indicated to me that they desired more and more authentic recognition in their workplace.”

So, it appears the answer to the opening question, “Isn’t the concept of appreciation really just an American fad?” is an emphatic: “No, it’s not!” The need for appreciation is expressed in a variety of countries and cultures. You won’t miss the mark by communicating appreciation for a job well done, regardless of the cultural background of your colleagues!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, author, speaker, and consultant who makes work relationships work. He has written articles for and been interviewed by Bloomberg’s Business Week, CNN/Fortune.com, Entrepreneur.com, Fast Company, FoxBusiness.com, Huffington Post LIVE, U.S. News and World Report, and Yahoo! Finance. 
As a speaker and trainer, Dr. White has taught around the world, including North America, Europe, South America, Asia, and the Caribbean. His expertise has been requested by Microsoft, Miller Coors, NASA, the Million Dollar Round Table, ExxonMobil, the Milken Institute, DIRECTV, the Salvation Army, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Napa Valley Community Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Compassion International, and numerous other national organizations.

Dr. White is the coauthor of three books including, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, written with Dr. Gary Chapman (author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages), which has sold over 425,000 copies. Based on their extensive research and expertise, Dr. White and Dr. Chapman have developed a unique way for organizations to motivate employees that leads to increased job satisfaction, higher employee performance and enhanced levels of trust. Their online assessment tool, Motivating by Appreciation Inventory, has been taken by over 200,000 employees and their Appreciation at Work training resources have been used by numerous corporations, colleges and universities, medical facilities, schools, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, and is used in over 60 countries.

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