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Want To Reverse Quiet Quitting?

Speak The “5 Languages Of Appreciation At Work”

According to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, the percentage of quiet quitters (also known as disengaged employees) in Southeast Asia has increased. At 68%, it is three percentage points higher than the global average. This means that nearly seven out of 10 employees are “quietly quitting”. They feel disconnected from their employers and are passing time at work or have started looking for a new employer.

In the survey, the quiet quitters shared what they would change about the workplace to make it better. Some 41% suggested improvements in engagement or culture; 28% provided suggestions for better pay and benefits, and 16% provided suggestions to improve well-being. The findings show the importance of a positive organisational culture. Under engagement or culture, employees want to be recognised for their contributions. They want more approachable managers they can talk openly with. They also want clearer goals and stronger guidance as well as opportunities to learn new things. The findings also show how much influence a leader has over the level of engagement an employee has at work.


One simple way that leaders can strengthen their relationship with their team members is by expressing their appreciation frequently. Leaders who have attended my “5 Languages of Appreciation at Work” programme often share that they do appreciate their team members. They usually treat their team members to meals, buy them presents on special occasions, and have a check-in conversation with them during the year-end performance appraisal.

However, team members tend to share a different perspective. To them, conversations about their career aspirations are only conducted during the year-end performance appraisal. The check-in conversations with their leader also tend to focus on tasks and results, rather than to recognise their contributions. They feel that their leaders care more about whether they have completed their to-do list than how they are coping at work, what kind of challenges they are facing, and what kind of help they need.

To reverse quiet quitting, employers may wish to take a leaf from marriage counsellor and author Dr Gary Chapman, who introduced the concept of “five love languages” – the different ways we express our love for family and friends – in his 1992 book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts. In 2011, Dr Chapman and Dr Paul White applied the five love languages to the work context in their book, The 5 Languages Of Appreciation In The Workplace. The five love languages relating to work are: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, tangible gifts, and physical touch.


Together with Dr White and Natalie Hamrick, I conducted a study on the language of appreciation that Singapore employees prefer to receive from their leaders. More than 900 Singapore employees completed the Motivating by Appreciation Inventory, an assessment tool which helps to identify one’s preferred language of appreciation at work. The inventory excludes physical touch as there are only a few appropriate examples for work, such as a handshake, high five or fist bump.

Among those surveyed, 39% rated acts of service as the most preferred language of appreciation, followed by 37% who chose words of affirmation; 20% chose quality time from their leaders, and only 4% chose gifts. Thus, if the leaders have been buying their team members meals or gifts as a form of appreciation, this may be underappreciated.

What makes one person feel appreciated may not make another feel the same. Hence, leaders need to expand their languages of appreciation to effectively engage their team members. Leaders also tend to appreciate their team members based on their own preferred language of appreciation. Thus, leaders need to discover their team members’ preferred languages of appreciation and develop fluency in these languages. By uncovering these blind spots, leaders can make their team members feel more valued and generate more positive emotions at work.


Leaders often share that they don’t have time to express their appreciation for their team members. The real issue could be that leaders tend to communicate only when there is work to be done or when there are mistakes. They seldom reach out just to affirm and appreciate their staff. This could be due to the leaders’ lack of understanding regarding the importance of fostering positive emotions at work and their effect on staff productivity and morale.

According to Dr Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build theory, positive emotions such as joy, gratitude and love can broaden an individual’s awareness and encourage novel, exploratory thoughts and actions. Positive emotions can strengthen the working relationships between leader and team members; these can serve as social support networks and social resilience for the team members to draw upon when they face challenges in the team.

Since leaders need to spend time to communicate with their team members, they can incorporate the languages of appreciation in their interactions with their team members.

When using words of affirmation, be specific and personalise your praise. Spend quality time with your direct reports by practising active listening to find out about their challenges at work. You can also have one-to-one sessions with your team members over meals and get to know them beyond their work persona. By spending quality time together, you can then help identify your team members’ work challenges and provide the appropriate acts of service to support them.

If you cultivate the mindset of intentionally appreciating your team members, you will not be confined by the lack of time, budget and opportunities as you can appreciate anyone, anytime and anywhere.

Jasmine Liew is Premier Partner, The 5 Languages of Appreciation at Work; Psychological Safety Practitioner, Breakthrough Catalyst; and Doctor of Business Administration candidate, University of Canberra.

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