Is Appreciation Just an American Concept?

May 31, 2021 9:00 am Published by

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!

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


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May 31, 2021 9:00 am


  • richard regan says:

    It is phrase that has been used by every President to conclude a speech since Richard Nixon addressed the nation regarding the Watergate scandal in 1973, “God Bless America.” Young people who are attractive, healthy and exhibit good qualities are categorized as all-American. This widespread use of the term “America” and its derivatives raises an important geographical and diversity question, “Is America a Country or Continent?”
    There are many countries but only seven continents, Africa, North and South America, Antarctica, Asia, Australia and Europe. North America and South America are connected by a group of Spanish speaking countries known as Central America.

    By my count, you used the word “American” 4 times in an article that talks about multi-national appreciation. Your frequent use of the term “America” as a substitute for the term USA, reinforces an unconscious bias toward people from the Spanish speaking part of the world, that an informal order of the Americas exist with the USA’s “America” at the top.

    You are correct. Appreciation is an American concept as long as we confine appreciation to the USA. If it is not, than we should use terms in describing the universal language of appreciation in more inclusive ways.

    • Paul White says:

      Richard, I appreciate the feedback. Thanks for sharing your observation – which is on point. I am using the term “American” in the colloquial sense, referring primarily to residents of the U.S. But, as you point out, is an overly narrow use of the term which can unconsciously reinforce inaccurate constructs of the term. I will strive to be more sensitive (and accurate) in my descriptive terms in the future.

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