Can Appreciation Cross Cultures? Or Is It Just an American Concept?

July 24, 2023 9:30 am Published by

I have had the privilege of traveling internationally to numerous countries to introduce the concept of authentic appreciation in the workplace. And from these experiences I’ve learned that appreciation and vibrant workplaces aren’t limited to certain cultures. And, more importantly, the need for appreciation in the workplace is deeply felt by the leaders and employees who work in these countries.

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) came 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—Swiss, 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, Spanish, 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 intended as a way of communicating warmth and friendship by the senders, but was not received that way.
  • Different preferred languages – while Words of Affirmation is the most preferred appreciation language in the U.S. and Canada (and seemingly, Western Europe), some cultures differ in their preferences. For example, managers and employees in Singapore choose Acts of Service as their top way to be shown appreciation. [We are currently analyzing data from several countries and will be publishing those results soon.]

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 said,

“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, the evidence is clear, Appreciation isn’t just an American concept. And ongoing research indicates the need for appreciation isn’t just a fad. You won’t miss the mark by communicating appreciation for a job well done, regardless of the cultural background of your colleagues!


Interested in learning more about our international resources?

Visit our International Resources page for more cross-cultural examples and see chapter 8 of my book The Vibrant Workplace on cross-cultural appreciation.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace has been translated into 23 languages and the basic version of our Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (the MBAI) is available in English AND 7 other languages. It can be taken in Danish, French, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish and is soon to be available in Japanese and Hungarian. Click here to learn more about our foreign language MBAI options.

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Published by
July 24, 2023 9:30 am

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