Talking about Love Languages at work might be a slippery slope. After all, things like affection, passion or romance are considered inappropriate for the business community.

But love is a highly complicated, multi-layered matter that should be approached from many angles. Notions such as appreciation, endorsement or respect also refer to love.

So, how can you express love safely in the workplace without making yourself or those around you uncomfortable?

Gary Chapman famously described the concept of “love languages” in his book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to your Mate. It discusses the following five phrases:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Quality time
  • Gift-giving
  • Physical touch

Workplace relationships are more complex than personal ones. Your attitude toward your colleague, boss, or subordinate is a combination of personal and professional relations—and these relationships are not interchangeable. A pleasant person can turn out to be a crummy professional and vice versa.

However, it’s helpful to take a closer look at these phrases and see how we can transform and adapt them for today’s workplace, creating respectful relationships and boosting workplace culture:

Words of affirmation should evolve into mentorship and feedback. While words of affirmation may seem appropriate for the workplace, they can also be viewed politically, which can be productive and destructive at the same time. While at work, words of affirmation should encourage constant improvement.

Quality time should become workplace bonding. Spending quality time with loved ones helps build strong and enduring relationships, confidence and a sense of belonging. While quality time is also crucial for building healthy workplace relationships, it is much more complex, especially considering our recent quarantine restrictions. In the workplace, quality time might mean taking the time to talk about personal relationships and develop an interest in each other’s lives beyond the workplace.

Gift-giving. Instead of being viewed in only a literal sense, gift-giving should be viewed as new opportunities that are given and received with enthusiasm and readiness. For example, managers should provide a clear vision of bonuses, new openings, and perspectives for those ready and willing to receive them. Employees should be ready to prove their readiness by raising a hand or taking a step forward. Gift-giving can also include actions that make other people’s jobs easier, such as helping a colleague with a complicated project or sharing a heavy workload or resources.

Touch. While physical touch, other than a handshake or a pat on the back, is inappropriate for the workplace, it’s helpful to “keep in touch” with encouraging touchpoints. For example, this could include writing a colleague or subordinate a message that describes how you appreciate their professional qualities or their contributions to a project’s success. Some workplaces select a special day for these types of celebrations.

For more information on how to praise others and show appreciation in the workplace, please read How does your personality affect your work?