How peer recognition is a key to retention and a modern people-strategy

peers celebrating woman in award ribbon with thumbs up and recognition, peer recognition

Good job!’ Two words that make one big difference. 


Whether gratitude comes from a boss or colleague, employees in a survey reported that more personal recognition would encourage them to produce better work. But 65% of employees haven’t received any form of recognition in the last year. Simply acknowledging employees for a job well done can foster engagement and motivation. 


Benefits of peer recognition for employees and organizations


Recognition can be beneficial through meta-collaboration across functions, Human Resources, managers, and colleagues. It enhances the flywheel effect – positively reinforcing the type of work that is desired. Of course managers should recognize employees, but there is a huge opportunity for organizations to encourage peer-to-peer recognition. Leadership can crowdsource, by having peers contribute to recognition, so all the responsibility doesn’t fall on People Ops. 


Peer recognition can boost morale during tough times, which is critical to managing in a downturn. Often, colleagues can give a more tailored and authentic thanks for a job well done since they have a better understanding of the responsibilities and long hours put in. Employees will feel like they are working towards the same goal and stronger teams increase a sense of belonging. 


Genuine and regular recognition fosters retention and company loyalty, employees are five times as likely to be connected to company culture and four times as likely to be engaged. This is especially important with a distributed workforce. Sharing real-time acknowledgement can bring together diverse remote workers, who may be looking to fit in. Employees who feel valued tend to have enhanced performance, which generates greater success for a company. 


With so many reasons for peer recognition, how can organizations make it happen? 


1. Create a culture of recognition among peers


Encourage employees to share quick compliments with each other anytime via an email, message, shoutout through Cleary, or when bumping into each other in the halls. Ensure the compliments are value-added since modern knowledge workers are already drowning in notification noise. Having more open, frequent, and casual compliments moves recognition out of siloed antiquated review approaches by business leaders and management, like an annual performance, and capitalizes on real-time gratitude and fast feedback


Management should still be involved and support peer recognition. For example, the ice breaker for all hands meeting can be reading the top shoutouts from the week. During this time, other colleagues can chime in and add to the accolades. This can create an asynchronous and synchronous approach to recognition. 


This isn’t a situation where leadership can just throw money at it. In fact, a popular Human Resources theory, Frederick Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory, posits that once an employee’s basic needs are met, he or she looks toward other factors to stay motivated, including recognition. The Harvard Business Review found that the most effective way to foster long-term engagement is positive social recognition from management and peers. With an ongoing war on talent, compensation is no longer the primary factor in obtaining and retaining employees. Organizations must focus on other intrinsic factors, alongside salary and benefits, to create a desirable and engaging workplace.


2. Make peer recognition fun and easy


Encourage peer recognition through built-in programs. Management can invest in software tools to make public recognition more fun and easy. Organizations can create and share badges – honors that go to more than one person and are repeatable, like signing a big account, hitting a sales goal, etc. 


Many people worry about what others think of them, so establishing systems for confidence-building is key. This is especially true for younger professionals who are accustomed to real-time recognition. To retain top young professionals, people strategists should meet them where they are with modern tools that mirror their consumer-based tools. 


3. Creating an equitable recognition experience


Everyone has different preferences for giving and receiving praise and recognition. To make sure everyone is on the same page, organizations can create an asynchronous event for everyone to post their preference. Another option is to add a question about recognition preference to the onboarding journey and include this information in a company profile in an organization chart for continued reference. This creates a more equitable experience for colleagues who tend to work more quietly who can miss out on earning the recognition they deserve. 


Some people need to adapt to real-time tools and build the confidence to use them. Management will have to review recognition preferences and work collaboratively with various recognition styles. Leadership may also have to try different tactics to see what works best with each type of individual.

Positive ripple effect of peer recognition 


Peer recognition supports positive culture and energy, which can bring together companies, especially with diverse remote colleagues. Working remotely, employees may be searching for their place in the organization and ways to fit in. Peer recognition can create a common goal to get together behind and foster a genuine spirit built into the team. 


Colleague encouragement can also lead to employees developing a culture of self-improvement and winning-together. When someone feels valued and is positively reinforced about good work, that can lay the foundation for continuous self-improvement. Organizations can set themselves up for success by coupling self-improvement with opportunities to up-skill and learn. 


As organizations start to encourage peer recognition in the workplace, leadership should be trained on best practices since peer recognition can be modeled after management recognition. The way your organization’s managers treat their employees matters a great deal. And employees will take notice. Acknowledging employee efforts publicly can help motivate employees and contribute to an organization’s success.


Simple gestures of appreciation may seem trivial but are one of the most cost-effective ways to improve the employee experience. It’s even better when the whole team joins in! 

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