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Peer-to-Peer Recognition: The HR Secret That Changes the Game

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Traditionally, workplace recognition comes from the top down. We hear “employee recognition,” and picture company birthday cards, occasional service awards, and managers who keep the fires of engagement burning so that employee performance hums along. Which is why peer-to-peer recognition is a game-changer.

This new mode has been democratizing the way we give and receive thanks. In fact, new research tells us that getting recognition from our colleagues can mean just as much — or even more — than getting a “Thanks for the good work!” from our superiors or HR professionals.

In fact, today’s youngest members of the workforce (Gen-Zers and young Millennials) are more likely to value praise from peers than any generation that’s come before. If we’re going to succeed in motivating the employees of tomorrow, we have to embrace new strategies today.


Employee recognition — the key to motivating workers

It’s no secret that recognition, especially when part of a strategic employee recognition program, leads to happier, more engaged workers, ultimately resulting in lower employee turnover rates and a better bottom line. But a lesser known fact is that the traditional, top-down method for giving recognition is, on its own, just not enough.

Before we get any farther in comparing types of recognition, here are a few critical pieces of intel about the value of employee recognition

  • Giving recognition is the #1 motivator of employees
  • The #1 reason people leave jobs is limited recognition and praise
  • 81% of employees work harder when their boss shows appreciation
  • 50% of employees would stay at their job longer if they felt appreciated

On top of that, when businesses employed a strategic employee recognition program (one in which affirmation was tied directly to company values and objectives), a recent study from SHRM revealed that:

  • Employees experience 28.6% lower frustration levels
  • Employees are 25.4% more likely to understand company objectives
  • Employee retention rates improve by 23.4%

Learn more about the science behind recognition. Read:
The Power of Recognition and Rewards

Read now


What is top-down recognition?

Top-down recognition is pretty much what it sounds like. A manager or executive gives recognition to a direct report, or someone serving at a lower position in the organizational hierarchy.

It could look like a manager giving positive verbal feedback during a 1-on-1 with their team member. Or, sharing it publicly through a team Slack channel or at a company-wide event. Or even showcasing an employees’ accomplishments to customers through a company email or social media outlet.

Traditional top-down recognition is a staple of any recognition program. But on its own, it doesn’t quite capture all of the benefits recognition has to offer. Here are some of top-down’s pros and cons:

Benefits of top-down recognition

  • Top-down recognition increases employee engagement. Recognition boosts employee engagement—period. In fact, one Gallup poll asked workers to evaluate whose affirmation meant the most to them. In the top three slots were: 1) direct manager, 2) CEO, 3) manager’s manager.
  • Top-down recognition strengthens feelings of connection to the company. Recognition from leadership can have a profound impact on an employee. A recent Gallup poll found that affirmation from a supervisor within the past 7 days was connected to 10-20% higher rates of productivity and revenue. Employees are happier, more likely to stay, and more connected when they receive higher levels of consistent, earned praise from supervisors.
  • Top-down recognition aligns and inspires teams. Top-down recognition programs encourage leaders to notice what’s happening on the ground. When it’s management’s job to inspire employees, giving recognition sharpens focus on behaviors and patterns that are tied to company objectives and values.

Downsides of top-down recognition

  • Top-down recognition can feel canned. Recognition from leaders who are unfamiliar with your work has the potential to come across as inauthentic. Often those who know our work best are our peers; our supervisors may not entirely understand the nuts and bolts of what we do, why our role is deeply critical, or what true excellence in our particular sphere looks like. That may be why 52% of workers say they aren’t satisfied with the recognition they receive.
  • Top-down recognition can feel obligatory. Top-down recognition is less likely to be spontaneous, and more likely to be scheduled. However, praise is most effective when it’s given immediately, specifically, and is tied to impact. Gallup reported that fewer than 1/3 of American employees have received any sort of praise from a supervisor in the past week. And with so many of us receiving constant real-time affirmation from social media, we’re conditioned to expect more frequent boosts. 
  • Top-down recognition misses opportunities to build relationships between peers and teams. When there’s friction in the system between who is expected to offer praise, some team members find themselves feeling stifled, left out, or as though their voice doesn’t matter. But when everyone recognizes each other, teams become more inspired and aligned.

It’s time to take a hard look at top-down recognition. Read:
Rethink Recognition: Why Service Awards Don’t Work Alone

Read now


What is peer-to-peer recognition?

Sweet and simple: Peer recognition (also called “social recognition”)  is when coworkers and teammates recognize each other. Top-down recognition reinforces a power hierarchy in an organization. By contrast, peer-to-peer recognition is laterally focused. It encourages everyone in a company to recognize individuals and teams, as well as those in leadership. 

According to SHRM, peer recognition instills a sense of team spirit, motivates high performance, and builds trust. And a peer recognition program empowers everyone in an organization to show appreciation to each other.

A peer recognition program might take the shape of an internal platform with a social feed of continuous thanks, hi-fives, and kudos. Peers are able to sign on and share the responsibility of boosting morale, and reach across departments (including remote employees!) to congratulate each other for their hard work. Some organizations even encourage team members to nominate co-workers for rewards.


6 ways peer-to-peer recognition changes the game

Are we arguing that you should replace top-down recognition with peer-to-peer? Of course not! In fact, employees routinely report that some of the most life-changing recognition comes from managers and leadership.

But when you incorporate peer-to-peer recognition into an already robust program, the game changes. Here are six ways collaborative peer recognition helps maximize the value of your recognition program as a whole.

1. Peer recognition builds camaraderie & connection

One executive explained that peer-to-peer affirmation often means so much to team members because it’s not forced; instead, it comes from the heart. Because peers aren’t under any obligation to offer recognition — as managers typically are — when they choose to, it feels deeply meaningful to the recipient.


2. Peer recognition rises from a deep understanding of work and impact

In one study, a system of frequent peer-issued safety awards led to an 82% reduction in work injuries. That’s because praise that is specific, issued in real-time, and connected to an outcome is usually interpreted as more meaningful by the recipient. And because peers work so closely together on a daily basis, they have ample opportunity to meet those criteria.   


3. Peer recognition builds connections across teams, breaking down silos

A recent Harvard Health article demonstrated the benefits of expressing gratitude. The process of receiving (and giving) thanks builds a sense of connection, security, and contentment. When team members are encouraged to express gratitude to their peers and to other teams or leadership for their contributions, it breaks down silos and increases the sense of shared mission.


4. Peer recognition reinforces a company culture of recognition

Gratitude has a profound bonding effect. When companies encourage team members to keep their eyes open for amazing contributions, employees quickly begin to realize how interconnected the web of roles really is. Where recognition abounds, people are happier and more productive, and end up staying with a company longer. 


5. When more people are empowered to recognize each other, recognition happens more frequently

If there are more people chiming in to say “Wow! You did really great work today on that project!”, recognition tends to compound. And that’s good news, because research shows that positive feedback given at least every seven days is essential.)


6. Bonus: Executives, managers, and other leadership can be recognized, too

For many leaders, the old adage “It’s lonely at the top” rings very true. But experiencing regular recognition can combat those lonely feelings. Our most deep-seated human needs include appreciation and recognition, and that applies to data processors and high-level executives alike.   


Take recognition further with Kazoo

We hope this article helped you better understand the value a peer-to-peer recognition program (as an addition to, but not replacement for, top-down recognition) brings to your recognition program. And if you’d like to learn more, we should talk.

Because at Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings performance management and recognition and rewards — including Goals, Feedback, Conversations, Recognition, Incentives, and more — into one simple, easy-to-use platform.

If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.

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