Peer-to-Peer Recognition: It Only Works If You Also Have Real Rewards

© Dawn Hudson -
© Dawn Hudson -

During the last few years, I’ve noticed an increase in an unfortunate trend. More and more HR Pros and employee recognition program managers are equating peer-to-peer recognition with zero-value awards.

In other words, employees are able to praise, appreciate and recognize each other through formal systems, but not assign any economic value to those awards.

Structuring a peer-to-peer program in this way communicates three messages very clearly to all employees:

  • We want employees to notice the good work of their colleagues. We get it. We understand the importance of employees noticing and appreciating each other’s efforts and achievements. So please, pay attention to what your colleagues are doing and thank them for it.

Why you should rethink recognition: This is all good and appropriate. You need this attitude as a strong starting point for a truly strategic, social recognition program that can change and drive your culture.

  • But we don’t trust you to give appropriate levels of recognition with economic value. We want you to notice good behaviors, actions and achievements, but putting any skin in the game… well, we’ll leave that up to the managers. We need accountability, after all. And who’s to say you and your buddy won’t just engage in a “You give me one, I’ll give you one” free for all?”

Why you should rethink recognition: A properly structured recognition program must include an appropriate approval loop and real-time, easily viewed reporting. With these features in place (along with training and communications), there is no need to fear misuse of the system. Stop telling employees you want to recognize them out of one side of your mouth, while telling them you don’t trust them out of the other.

  • So we will undermine the program and ensure we don’t get the full benefits or bottom-line results by making peer-to-peer recognition only available as an eThanksIt wouldn’t cost much to open recognition to all employees (and it would certainly cost less than programs proven to be a waste such as Employee of the Month or Perfect Attendance), but we’re willing to sacrifice the added benefits of increased employee engagement, retention and performance rather than trust our employees.

Why you should rethink recognition: A primary reason for implementing a strategic, social employee recognition program in the first place is to build a culture of appreciation. Kicking off a program designed and built on lack of trust undermines your efforts from the beginning.

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What should you do instead?

Implement a true everyone-to-everyone recognition program and structure so all employees are encouraged to express the value they see in the achievements and actions of their colleagues. Include mechanisms to guide employees to the proper award level choice, and perhaps restrict the highest award levels to management to give.

Are all employees in your organization encouraged to recognize and reward others?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


1 Comment on “Peer-to-Peer Recognition: It Only Works If You Also Have Real Rewards

  1. Derek,

    Thanks for writing about this topic.  I agree with your points regarding the need to trust and empower employees with the ability to give recognition to others.  Google has an internal recognition system that allows employees to give each other monetary spot bonuses which is great – each employee has a budget of recognition dollars to give to others throughout the year and they are entrusted to do so honestly. 

    I think you hit on the most important topic in your first point though – companies need to be educated on and experience the positive effects of peer-to-peer recognition first.  In our experience, the majority of small and medium companies still don’t have a peer recognition system implemented in their company (software or otherwise).  The challenge for everyone in our industry is to provide recognition solutions to our clients that allow them to quickly deploy the system into their workforce, customize it for their values and make it a part of their company culture as easily as possible. Long integrations, complex systems and approval loops slow down adoption and usage of these programs – lightweight, simple and fun is key.

    Once the culture of frequent, meaningful, specific and value-oriented peer recognition is established, it is much easier and more comfortable to shift budget to that program in the form of monetary or physical rewards attached to peer recognition.

    Travis Pearl
    Co-founder, MeritShare

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