Are Nurses Under-Appreciated? The Languages of Appreciation


Published: 31 January 2017

As a nurse, can you think of a time when someone has failed to appreciate your expertise and recognise your contribution, both as a clinician and caregiver in the workplace?

They may have been a co-worker or person of the general public.

A study featured in the Nursing Times (2015) showed that the majority of people believe nurses to be the most under-appreciated profession.

Did you wonder why it is that others can’t seem to see you and your value as a hardworking, dedicated healthcare worker?

According to Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, and most recently, MBA – Motivating by Appreciation in the Workplace, people express appreciation in different ways (1995). What this means is that we all have a unique way that we like to feel appreciated, cared for and validated.

Most of the time we don’t feel this validation because the people around us are just not speaking our unique language of appreciation.

Garry Chapman says there are five ways we like to feel appreciated:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Quality Time
  4. Receiving Gifts
  5. Physical Touch

We will usually have two of these that are our primary language and one that we are least worried about.

Most people like to feel appreciated to some degree in all of these ways.

I know for some of you, words of appreciation for a job well done will be enough to keep you coming back to work. You will feel motivated to turn up day in and day out because a simple thank you or kind word of gratitude from a co-worker, manager or patient will leave you feeling like you matter and that you are enough!

For others, though, ‘thank you’ just won’t cut the mustard, and you will leave feeling unappreciated, frustrated and disillusioned.

For those of you who don’t have ‘words of affirmation’ as your main way of feeling motivated and validated, you may be beginning to have an inkling of how you like to be appreciated, but I’m guessing you may not be able to communicate that very clearly with others. Am I right?

Don’t fret, I am here to shine the light on these five unique ways in which we all like to feel validated.

As you discover how you and others primarily like to be appreciated in the workplace, you will begin to feel happier and much more content within your roles and, even more than that, you will know how to motivate and validate others in the way that is unique to them. How empowering is that?

Acts of Service

Perhaps you are someone that really appreciates a colleague giving you a lending hand when you are under the pump by attending to your observations, restocking the medication room or assisting you with your patient load.

If any of the above acts of service sound like something that would leave you feeling appreciated, then you are someone that likes what is referred to as, you guessed it ‘acts of service’.

Quality Time

I can hear some of you thinking, “what’s she on about?? I just want to know that someone will listen to what I have to say: really focus on me and be 100% present when I have an issue, or when I need to give feedback about my patient or something that is really important to me…”

If you get frustrated and feel undervalued when someone does not give you their undivided attention, then you are someone that values ‘quality time’ as your primary way of feeling appreciated and validated.

So many people I have found along my journey have “Quality Time” as their primary or second language. In our busy working environments, this need is clearly not being met.

No wonder there are so many nurses feeling undervalued, frustrated and going home feeling as though they don’t matter and as if they are not appreciated (Stephenson 2015). Crazy, hey?

Receiving Gifts

Everyone likes receiving gifts, right? As it turns out, some of us more than others. Visual, tangible symbols of appreciation are more important to people who have ‘receiving gifts’ as their primary language of appreciation.

This could be as simple as a handmade card of ‘thanks’, thank you post-it notes, a birthday cake, or something such as the gift of time – allowing a co-worker to go home early after a busy day, for example.

Physical Touch

The last unique language of appreciation is ‘physical touch’.

In the work place, this is not as easy to demonstrate, however you can ensure that people who have this as their primary language are appreciated by simply patting them on the back or giving them a high five, or where it is appropriate to do so, by giving them a warm supportive hug or shoulder massage at the end of a long day.

I don’t know many nurses who wouldn’t appreciate one of those.

Nurses who have this as their primary language, will love the ability to simply touch a patient, demonstrating care and understanding will be just what they need to feel like they are making a difference and that they matter.

Just know that demonstrating this language of physical touch will be most uncomfortable for those who hold it as their least favoured language of appreciation.

How do you feel now that you know that we all (yes, that means your patients too) have a unique language of appreciation?

Now that you know what you know, what are you going to do differently in your workplace?

Are you going to endeavour to learn your colleague’s language?

More importantly, are you going to let them and your manager know how you like to feel validated?

If so, begin by watching very carefully how other people demonstrate appreciation, or even better, just notice what they voice as their frustrations: i.e. “nobody thanks me for staying back”, “I just can’t get anyone to help me”, “I know they said I did a great job, but they could have given me chocolates”, or “I just wish they would take the time to listen to me”.

If you pay attention you will know how others within your team, and even more than that, your patients, like to be appreciated.

If you or any of your colleagues want to discover your unique language, you can take the online test at The Five Love Languages website.

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