Peer-to-peer recognition

Giving workers the appreciation they crave

A little appreciation goes a long way. However, while most leaders acknowledge the importance of recognizing staff, many employees still don’t feel adequately valued or appreciated for their contributions at work.

Why is employee recognition such a challenge when the benefits are decidedly evident? One reason is managers and supervisors — who traditionally are largely responsible for recognizing the contributions of staff — often struggle to find the time or they simply don’t know how to do it well. 

The solution? Peer-to-peer recognition, giving workers more of the appreciation they crave.

There are a number of reasons why peer nomination programs have proven to be an effective tool for the workplace:
They cast a wider net: Colleagues working side by side are more likely to be aware of the day-to-day efforts and contributions of their peers. When employees are empowered to recognize their comrades, not only does it increase the likelihood of great work being noticed, it also helps give management a deeper understanding of the successes and achievements going on in their business.

Business objectives: Peer recognition programs can help connect employees with the business’ objectives. The giving and receiving of recognition creates a cognitive link between the action and its impact on the goals of the group. This engages both the nominator and the recipient at a high level. 

Value: Recognition from peers is highly valued by employees. It builds community and teamwork, two leading drivers of retention and performance. 

Avoiding mistakes
From time to time, groups steer away from peer recognition programs out of a fear they will just be a popularity contest. It’s important to address this concern with transparency and open communication. Designing the program to ensure recognition is connected to specific behaviours is a key strategy. The nomination process should be set up to tie recognition to the values or guiding principles of the organization. In this way, individuals will be recognized for contributions that truly impact the organization.  

Another reason peer recognition initiatives can flounder is if the program is too complicated. It’s important to set up the program to be easy for colleagues to give recognition and simple for administrators to manage. Consider web- or app-based platforms that remove any unnecessary barriers between giving, reviewing and receiving recognition.

Social-style platforms
Social recognition platforms are revolutionizing peer-to-peer recognition, and they warrant consideration. There are several advantages social recognition platforms can offer. First, they make giving recognition instant and accessible. Research indicates that the sooner recognition is given after an achievement, the more impact it will have on the recipient. Social recognition is instantaneous, interactive and fun, making it appealing for users to participate.

Second, social recognition platforms are transparent. Recognition moments are visible to all in the group and added to an ongoing story of successes. Because the moments are public and not anonymous, givers are motivated to be sincere and positive.

Third, recognition moments can be connected with corporate values. This is truly an essential element to an effective peer recognition program that will have a positive impact on the business.

With good communication and an effective system to collect and share positive feedback from colleagues, a peer-to-peer recognition program can have a powerful impact on individuals and organizations as a whole. Success stories contributed by everyone in the organization are a tremendous tool to build community, momentum and growth. 

Mike Byam is the managing partner of Terryberry, an employee recognition provider based in Grand Rapids, Mich. He can be reached at [email protected] or, for more information, visit 

Case study: Queen’s University
In 2009, Ontario-based Queen’s University Department of Family Medicine (DFM) identified employee recognition as a key strategic initiative to support its mission of striving for excellence in patient-centred health care, research and education. The school wanted a recognition solution that fostered more day-to-day engagement and helped connect employees from its four locations.

Using Terryberry’s “Give a WOW” program for social media-style employee recognition, Queen’s set up an online program where employees could nominate each other for recognition. Nominations were directly tied to the department’s core values. 

“By recognizing the efforts of our staff in the social media format that the Give a WOW program provides, we learn about the achievements and great work our peers are doing on a daily basis and the feedback provides motivation and incentive to excel. It also offers a sense of community,” says human resources co-ordinator Vanessa Patterson.

“This sense of community would otherwise be difficult to achieve given that we operate out of four physically separate locations, and many staff do not work directly with one another.”

Recognitions are given at four levels: High Five, WOW awards, DFM Recognition Awards and Service awards. 

“High Five nominations allow DFM employees to immediately recognize one another on a daily basis to foster our culture of recognition. They can send a High Five to a colleague or team member any time they witness behaviours or attitudes that embody the core values of the DFM,” says Patterson. 

“Employees nominated for the Wow Award personify the qualities which define excellence in providing quality care/service in support of the vision, mission and core values of the DFM. Nominations are reviewed and given out quarterly by our staff recognition committee. 

The DFM Recognition award is bestowed annually upon an individual who embodies one or a combination of the qualities of the DFM core values. Those who receive the most Wow Awards during the year will be eligible for this award.”

As for the response to the program, Patterson says more and more staff are logging on and using it every day. 

“They love being able to share recognition in real time and like learning about the achievements of staff they wouldn’t otherwise learn about. We’re very excited about the future of this program and how it can help us achieve our goals.”

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