Peer Recognition in the Workplace: The What, Why and How

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Peer Recognition in the Workplace: The What, Why and How

Employee recognition is an essential part of a successful workplace. How can your organization leverage peer recognition to motivate employees and create a collaborative, engaging work environment?

What is peer recognition? 
Why peer recognition matters 
Setting up a successful peer recognition program
On a final note 

What is peer recognition? 

Peer recognition, also referred to as peer-to-peer recognition is when employees publicly recognize each other’s help, contributions, skills, talent, or work well done. 

Peer-to-peer recognition can come in different shapes and sizes; in a team or company chat, during a meeting (on- or offline), an email, a feedback tool, a micro bonus, a LinkedIn endorsement, and the list goes on. 

There are various types of employee recognition. The three most common ones are peer-to-peer, leader-to-team-member, and employer-to-employees. An employee recognition program is usually a combination of these.  

The Power of a Post-It

Now, before we dive into the nitty-gritty of peer recognition though, let’s have a look at a real word example. We can call it ‘The Power of a Post-It’.

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German utility company E.On introduced a recognition program that encouraged personalized recognition via digital and physical thank you notes. 

At E.On, employee recognition wasn’t limited by organizational hierarchies which meant that people could receive a thank you note from literally anyone in the organization, regardless of their ‘ranking’. 

As a result, senior executives ended up sending thank you notes to almost a thousand employees. Here are some of the results:

  • E.On’s employee motivation score went from 61% to 69%
  • Employees who felt valued went from 39% to 52%
  • Employee understanding of E.On’s business vision went from 57% to 75%

Pretty impressive, isn’t it? And a beautiful example of how a simple act of recognition – a thank you note – can have an incredible impact on the business.   

Why peer recognition matters

There are literally heaps of reasons why it’s important to create a work environment where giving and receiving peer recognition is like a second nature for people. Here’s a few of them:

  • Better employee relationships. An obvious one to start with. Creating a culture where people don’t hesitate to say thank you and publicly recognize their peers brings them together, improves teamwork and encourages them to always go the extra mile.
  • Fostering equality in the workplace. Peer-to-peer recognition isn’t limited to peers only. It should give employees the possibility to give feedback to their managers and other people in the organization too – as we saw in the example from E.On.  
    As such, peer recognition helps to create a culture that values every single voice in the company and fosters equality.   
  • Promoting organizational values. Recognition can be a good way to promote certain behaviors too, for instance, behaviors linked to your organizational values. 
    At AIHR, for example, we have our weekly company stand-up on Monday morning. Our colleague who facilitates this meeting highlights almost every week someone in the company who has behaved in a way that beautifully aligns with our values.
    This always results in a round of (virtual) applause and bravos – peer recognition indeed – and encourages other people to behave in a way that corresponds with the company values too.    
  • Employees align with organizational goals in their day-to-day work. Employee recognition can (and should) be a way to connect your people’s everyday work with your organizational goals. We’ll give a few examples of what this could look like below.
  • Boosting lasting employee engagement. Peer-to-peer recognition can have a positive impact on employee engagement. In fact, positive peer feedback is often (much) better received than praise coming from a direct manager.One of the reasons for this is that a peer knows exactly what it’s like to do the job; they know its challenges and how hard it can be to achieve certain goals. As such, getting a compliment from a colleague can be perceived as more valuable and rewarding. This, in turn, boosts people’s happiness at work and, by extension, their engagement.
    We saw this in the E.On example too; people felt (significantly) more motivated and valued thanks to the company’s thank you note initiative.    
  • Increasing trust, productivity, and performance. Engaged employees tend to be more productive and have better performance, nothing new there. On top of that, peer recognition and showing appreciation for your coworkers’ talent, work, and behavior builds trust between people. 

And the list goes on…

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Other often-named benefits of peer recognition include:

  • Increased employee confidence and self-esteem
  • Better collaboration
  • Increased transparency
  • Improved employee morale
  • Decreased employee turnover and; 
  • A great team spirit and camaraderie.

Setting up a successful peer recognition program

1. Start building a culture of recognition

This is easier said than done and a topic that is worthy of an article in itself. There are, however, certain elements to keep in mind here:

  • Make sure that recognition is embraced by everyone in the organization, from bottom to top and vice versa. 
  • Show the importance of recognition in your employer branding and hiring process.
  • Build and implement an employee recognition program. 
  • Communicate frequently and clearly about your employee recognition program to ensure that everyone in the company knows about it.
Setting Up a Peer Recognition Program

2. Define your objective(s) 

As we saw earlier, peer recognition can boost, among other things, employee performance, engagement, productivity, and retention. In turn, improving on these metrics has a positive impact on your organization’s bottom line.

So, what is it that you want to achieve and how does this link to your organization’s business goals? Do you want to improve employee retention? Or rather your engagement levels? Or perhaps both? 

Think about this as well as about how you want to define success and how you want to measure this.

A simple example. Let’s say you want to implement a peer recognition initiative to improve your employee engagement by 3% in 3 months. To measure the results, you use an employee survey and create an employee focus group

An easy way to guide your goal setting is the SMART method (SMART being an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely).

3. Stick to the recognition etiquette 

Yes, there is a certain ‘etiquette’ when it comes to giving praise in public. Peer recognition needs to be specific, genuine, timely, and consistent to be successful. In other words, the more specific you can be about what exactly you’re giving praise for, the better. 

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If, for example, one of your company values is ‘take ownership’ and you want to praise one of your employees for doing exactly that, don’t just say “Monika, you showed great ownership last week, well done.” 

Instead, say something like “Monika, you noticed that our website was down during the weekend. Instead of waiting until Monday to do something about it, you took it upon yourself to contact our hosting service and solve the problem so that our clients wouldn’t be affected by it as much as they could have been. You showed great ownership there, well done!’ 

Timing is important too; people don’t want to hear they did something great 3 months ago. If possible, build a program that allows people to instantly give their peers recognition, anywhere, anytime.  

Unsurprisingly, you can also use a tool to allow your people to give instant recognition to their team members. HeyTaco, for example, is a Slack integration (Slack is a collaboration tool) that lets people send tacos to their colleagues as a token of their appreciation. 

4. Provide examples 

Give your employees examples of behaviors they can look for in their colleagues. One way to do so is by celebrating people who demonstrated ‘living the company values’ during a weekly team or company meeting as we do at AIHR during our Monday morning stand-ups.

You can (I want to say should) also ask your people to share examples of how they think their colleagues have demonstrated the company values. 

As to how you can give recognition, the possibilities are endless really. Our friends over at Snacknation mention a couple of cool examples such as a Coworker Appreciation Day – a day organized for and by coworkers – and a DIY award ceremony for the people that make coming to work every day an absolute pleasure.  

5. Make it fun

A word that instantly comes to mind here is gamification. Points, badges, or gifts can be a great way to give people a gentle nudge and get them to participate in your peer recognition program.  

Of course, you can use a dedicated software tool for this (more on that just below), but you can also decide to do it the old-fashioned way with a big scoreboard hanging on the wall for everyone to see – and make changes to. 

There are other ways to make peer-to-peer recognition more fun too. What about a Coworker Roast for example where compliments, positive feedback, and genuine praise are mixed with some friendly jokes about the coworker that’s being roasted.

6. Consider using technology 

Peer recognition is just one type of employee recognition. Especially if you’re ramping up your efforts in this area – and if you have the budget for it – you might want to consider using technology.  

There are lots of different employee recognition platforms available, some of them more suitable for SMEs (Assembly and Nectar for example), others more suitable for larger organizations.

There is are peer recognition tools that focus on enhancing company culture and building meaningful relationships, software that focuses on verbal recognition and kindness, solutions that help companies focus on rewarding positive behaviors aimed at long-term business growth, and so on.

As you may have guessed, the choice for one tool or the other is thus very much dependent on your specific company and situation. Elements to take into consideration include: 

  • The size of your company 
  • The available budget 
  • What you want to achieve with your peer recognition program (your goals) 

7. Think of reasons to celebrate 

As we mentioned earlier, for peer recognition to really work, consistency is important. An effective way to ensure consistency in recognition is by defining reasons to celebrate.

Think of people’s workversary – as well as their birthdays – both individual and team achievements and milestones, etc. Let me give you a few examples. 

Your social media team has a target of +5k followers per month on LinkedIn for the next quarter. Whenever they hit that monthly target, you celebrate. 

Another example. One of the KPIs of your customer success manager is to get your NPS score up by 0.9 points during the first quarter of the year. Once he or she achieves that, you celebrate. 

Linking your reasons to celebrate to (some of the) KPIs of the people in your organization is a good way to align organizational goals with employee recognition.   

A tool that helps companies connect employee recognition and rewards with continuous performance management is Kazoo

8. Use social and financial recognition 

So far, we mostly talked about social recognition. Financial recognition, however, can also contribute to the success of your peer recognition program. 


In the form of microbonuses, for instance. A micro bonus is similar to a regular bonus only much (much) smaller. If peers can shoot each other a micro bonus of a few dollars this can lead to people: 

  • Feeling less ‘guilty’ about bothering colleagues with their questions 
  • Wanting to go above and beyond for their colleagues 
  • Being recognized for ‘the little things’ like taking 15 minutes out of their day to help a colleague 

A nice alternative to a micro bonus is… a cup of coffee. Nack is ‘an app for coffee and kindness’ as they put it themselves. It allows people to send (and receive) cups of coffee to their peers as a token of their recognition.    

9. Get leadership to role model 

As always, the leaders in your organization play an important role in making peer recognition a part of people’s everyday behavior. It’s up to them to model the peer recognition they want to see among their employees. 

Examples can be really simple. Whenever there is a company-wide business update, for instance, managers can take a moment to recognize the contribution or accomplishments of another manager.

10. Measure success

Based on the objectives you’ve defined for your peer recognition program you can measure its success. 

Employee feedback on your peer recognition initiative(s) or program is an important element here. Based on their feedback, you can continue to improve. 

If you’ve started off with a small initiative, for instance, and the results show you that it helped you improve engagement, this might give you a reason to invest money into a platform – or it might help you to convince the leadership to give you the budget for it.  

On a final note

If you want to create a great business culture, start by encouraging your employees to recognize each other for doing great work and lead by example. 

Even if you don’t have the resources to implement a full-blown peer recognition program, there are small things you can do to start building a culture of recognition right now.

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