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Showing appreciation builds a positive environment

By Karyn Santl

Thank you note on table with pen next to a wrapped gift, cookies and flowers
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  - Maya Angelou

I work in a youth serving organization where we use volunteers to achieve our mission of delivering high-quality, culturally responsive, experiential learning opportunities for youth. We have over 7,500 volunteers placed in formal roles and just as many in informal roles. We consider volunteers to be part of our workforce or team.

April is Global Volunteer Month, and within the month of April is National Volunteer Week. These designations give us the opportunity to recognize the impact volunteer service has on our youth programs and the communities we serve. Ensuring volunteers are recognized and shown appreciation is one of the components of a successful volunteer delivery system.

A resource that I have used to build my skills in this area is the book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White, which is based on The 5 Love Languages by Chapman. This book provides an understanding of the appreciation needs of others and offers practical actions that anyone can use in their workplace to demonstrate gratitude and potentially improve morale, connectedness, and engagement. The five languages are summarized below:
  1. Words of affirmation - These can be verbal or written. Whichever approach you take, be as specific as possible. A generic "good job" won’t be as compelling or effective as taking the time to compliment a certain skill set or action.
  2. Quality time - This means giving your undivided attention to the person - listening rather than talking. This might simply be having coffee with the person and letting them express their ideas at length.
  3. Acts of service - This might look like physically taking on a task and potentially alleviating that work from the person. This shows you recognize the amount of work they do and that you value them. Ask if they want help; don’t assume. If you offer help, do so in a timely manner.
  4. Gifts - Giving a personalized gift is a display that you thought of the person and selected  something you knew they would appreciate. Gifts don’t need to be lavish, just tailored to the person.
  5. Physical touch - This language of appreciation can be shown in handshakes, fist bumps and high-fives. It’s critical to respect personal boundaries and follow HR guidelines.

In my tenure with Minnesota 4-H, I have worked with many youth, volunteers, colleagues and office mates. It has always been a goal of mine to ensure that everyone feels appreciated and valued, and knowing about the 5 Languages has helped me understand others. One thing I've learned is that if you express appreciation in ways that aren’t meaningful to a person, they may not feel valued at all. You can learn a person's "language" by building the relationship, observing, or just asking. There is a quiz available to learn your language of appreciation.

These "languages" can be used whether you work primarily with youth or with adults. I think it is important for youth workers to make sure to show appreciation to the youth in our programs as well as to model showing appreciation to the adults. It’s a life skill we can teach youth.

What is your preferred "language" for feeling appreciated? How do you like to be shown appreciation? What are ways you have shown appreciation to youth, colleagues or volunteers?

-- Karyn SantlExtension educator

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