How to do peer-to-peer recognition well

Your day is jam-packed: you’ve got meetings from 9am to 2pm, followed by an offsite training session and then 2 performance appraisals for team members.

Short of adding another couple of hours to your already lengthy days or having eyes in the back of your head (and in multiple other places), you have no way of knowing how your team is performing, let alone what activities or behaviours you should be calling out for special recognition or appreciation. You don’t really know about those small but important instances where team members have gone above and beyond. For example: they’ve helped a new colleague with a technical issue; they’ve settled a client dispute professionally over the phone; they’ve worked back several hours to complete a deadline.

Research undertaken by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick for their book, The Carrot Principle, showed that in the most productive workplaces, appreciation is expressed by a manager to an employee or an employee to an employee at least once every 7 days. Sounds impossible, right? It’s not impossible if you enlist the help of your team and colleagues.

Peer-to-peer recognition, when done well, can have a huge impact on the performance and overall job satisfaction of the team members in your care.

The benefits

Peer-to-peer recognition can:

  • Build a culture of trust. The transparency that comes from having multiple people involved in nominating and deciding who is worthy of recognition means the days of managers taking credit for the work of their staff, or ignoring those who truly add value, are over.
  • Bolster engagement. Research cited by PeoplePulse[1] indicates that companies using strategic recognition programs are 48% more likely to report high staff engagement. Specifically, 57% of HR professionals in companies that introduced peer-to-peer recognition programs reported higher levels of employee engagement, compared with 46% of those without such programs.
  • Improve employee retention. According to Glassdoor, more than 80% of employees say they are motivated to work harder and stay at their jobs longer when they receive appreciation for their work.
  • Enhance teamwork. Add in both individual and team-based goals to any recognition program and watch team collaboration build. When an employee gets a pat on the back from a peer who understands exactly what they do, day in and day out, it can make them feel more appreciated by the rest of the team. Try an experiment. Ask everyone in your team if they have a colleague they’d like to thank for something they’ve done over the past week. Ask them to email that thanks to the recipient and also to you, as their manager. You’ve instantly provided a bond between team members. It’s a reminder that people genuinely want to say thanks, but it can sometimes be forgotten during a busy working day.

If those major benefits aren’t enough, research[i] has also shown that Millennials are interested in meaningful recognition that helps them feel empowered. Specifically, Millennials resonate with 3 key rewards vehicles: handwritten notes; experiential rewards (eg event tickets); and “thank yous” from peers, managers, or next-level managers or section executives.

Key elements of successful peer-to-peer recognition

  • Make it meaningful. Ensure your team are recognising achievements or behaviours that are truly worthy of being recognised and are not simply recognising people doing their job. Any recognition should reinforce company values, behaviours and objectives. Set the reward criteria, communicate what is important, and do this often.
  • Make it easy. Employees shouldn’t have to jump through multiple hoops to nominate a peer and obtain manager approval.
  • Make it instant. Layers of approvals slow the process and result in ‘small moments’ worthy of recognition being forgotten about. Technology-based peer recognition programs should be mobile-friendly, allowing recognition to happen anytime, anywhere.
  • Make it fun. Encourage employees to participate by incorporating elements of gamification (earn badges and trophies) and social media (provide the ability to “like” or share nominations). This not only creates a sense of friendly competition but also ensures it remains viable: we’ve all heard of recognition programs starting with a flourish only to die out months later. Set monthly points-based goals for team members to meet and exceed.
  • Make it sustainable. Consider refreshing the focus every quarter – for example, switch from recognising completion of learning tasks to recognising excellence in customer service. It’s also critical to constantly evaluate a program’s effectiveness and allow for continuous improvement. Data can help you assess usage rates, gain insights into employees’ understanding of company values, and the level of employee satisfaction with the program.

Two final tips before you get started.

First, ensure that employees know what they are working towards. Always be clear on any associated “reward” to go hand in hand with recognition. Will it be a redeemable points-based system? Will the rewards be financial and/or non-financial such as “thank yous” and symbolic trophies and awards?

Second, don’t let your management-led recognition programs slide. Peer-to-peer recognition should be a supplement to – and not a replacement of – management recognition such as Employee of the Month awards.


ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll can help facilitate peer-to-peer recognition with ELMO Rewards & Recognition. Employees can accumulate points, recommend peers and “like” the recommendations of others, while those who hit certain KPIs and milestones can be acknowledged. ELMO Rewards & Recognition can ultimately help build a culture of appreciation and pride amongst employees, peers and managers. Find out more here.


[i] “Making Recognition Programs Successful” – O.C. Tanner and Aon Hewitt

Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.
Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.