Imagine that you invested a ton of time, effort, and energy into a project at work. You poured your all into that assignment and you’re sure that everybody has seen how hard you’ve been working.

When you finally get it over the finish line? It’s crickets. Radio silence. A whole lot of nothin’.

Even if you weren’t toiling away in the interest of being praised and celebrated by other people, you’ll admit that the total lack of recognition stings. 

Does anybody—from your teammates to your manager—care how hard you worked on that? Do they even notice that you got it done? Seriously, does your work even matter?

It’s a disheartening feeling, and unfortunately, it’s one that way too many employees experience. One 2019 survey from OC Tanner found that 65% of workers said they weren’t recognized a single time in the past year. 

There isn’t a quick fix for that alarming appreciation deficit, but opening the door for more peer recognition is certainly a step in the right direction. 

High Five: Why Peer Recognition Matters (And Why It’s So Hard)

Peer recognition is exactly what it sounds like: It’s when employees receive praise and compliments from their team members, rather than from managers and other high-ranking leaders.

While recognition from upper management carries a lot of weight (Gallup found that the most meaningful recognition comes from a manager, CEO, or other high-level employee), receiving some acknowledgement of a job well done from our equal colleagues often feels more genuine. 

As a piece for Harvard Business Review mentions, “Because the recognition is peer-to-peer, it feels less like a performance review and more like an organic expression of gratitude.” 

That type of authentic applause from the people we work side-by-side with can lead to a number of notable benefits, including:

  • Boosted morale, engagement, and job satisfaction: Nobody wants to feel like they’re cranking through tasks without anybody so much as noticing (let alone celebrating) a job well done. Recognition makes us feel valued and appreciated, which increases our overall happiness and commitment to our work.
  • Increased productivity: Not only do we feel better about our work, but we actually get more of it done. Deloitte found that employee productivity and performance is 14% higher in organizations that prioritize recognition.
  • Deeper and more meaningful work relationships: It makes sense that when we feel adequately appreciated by our coworkers that we’re able to forge stronger bonds with them. Recognition goes a long way in building trust and fortifying our work relationships.
  • Improved employee retention: 79% of employees who quit a job say a lack of appreciation was a major reason for leaving, which means that bumping up recognition can help keep top talent around. 

So if there are all of these benefits to be reaped, why isn’t peer recognition something that just inherently happens on teams? Why aren’t we all just naturally patting each other on the backs? 

There could be a number of different factors at play. 

Making time for recognition can easily get lost in the shuffle as we all tackle the numerous demands and requirements of our workdays. It might not be modeled as part of the broader organizational culture, especially in companies that move fast and don’t leave time for reflection and praise. Or, people could simply feel uncomfortable shining a spotlight on others, especially if it isn’t an established norm or they don’t know how their colleagues prefer to receive shoutouts.

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4 Ways To Make Peer Recognition Feel Second Nature

The good news is that none of the challenges that stifle peer recognition are insurmountable. You can actively work around them. 

The key here is to not make any of your recognition resources too accessible or templated. For praise to carry weight, it needs to be and feel authentic. Employees will see right through copy-and-paste accolades that were ripped right from a shared document.

That said, there are some simple ways that you can foster a work environment where people feel encouraged and supported to applaud everyone else’s hard work, without it being a major task or interruption. 

1. Model The Behavior From The Top Down

This likely isn’t news to you: Employees pay more attention to how you act than what you say. So, if you can model recognition yourself, people will be far more likely to follow suit. 

This doesn’t need to be anything overly complicated. For example, maybe you’ll…

  • Compliment another manager on their leadership and contribution to a recent project during a cross-functional meeting with both of your teams.
    • Example: “The custom graphics and illustrations for this presentation turned out beautifully, and that’s a testament to the hard work of Ritika and her team. Awesome job on these!”
  • Give another supervisor a shoutout when you send a company-wide update email about what your department is working on.
    • Example: “We recently finished the overhaul of our company’s employee onboarding process and are excited to get that rolled out. Major kudos to fellow department heads Susannah, Javier, and Kate for contributing such valuable insights to help us complete that project!” 

Both of those are low-effort, yet meaningful, ways to call out the great work somebody else at your same level is doing. Not only does it make the person receiving the praise feel good, but it also provides a solid example for your own employees to notice and follow. 

2. Create Personalized User Manuals

Any type of recognition—whether it comes from a direct team member or the C-suite—isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some people might get a lot of gratification from public shoutouts, while others might feel completely embarrassed.

You can help employees get over the potential for discomfort (and, as a result, offer each other more meaningful recognition) by creating personal user manuals together. These handy guides cover a lot of information about how to best work with someone else—including how they prefer to receive praise and feedback.

It gives every employee a tangible resource that they can use to provide recognition in a way that’s custom-fit to the specific person. That ups their own confidence level so that they actually follow through on giving a fellow team member a well-deserved round of applause (without feeling shaky about the best way to go about it). 

3. Incorporate Recognition Into Your Existing Meetings

As with anything else, the best way to get buy-in and commitment to something is to make it as effortless as possible. The easier it is for your employees to offer each other recognition, the more likely they are to do it.

Fortunately, you likely already have plenty of existing or recurring meetings on the calendar where you could reserve a couple of minutes for peer-to-peer praise. For example, you could dedicate time in your:

Those are all times where you’re likely all planning or reflecting on your work together anyway, making it a perfect time to call out specific contributions and achievements (provided you’re abiding by people’s unique preferences, of course).

You could also create special traditions for people to receive compliments and kind tributes during certain milestones like work anniversaries or birthdays. 

While praise shouldn’t be reserved only for special occasions (yes, that means it needs to be a frequent, regular thing!), even something as simple as having everybody write a thoughtful note in a card can go a long way in making employees feel noticed and appreciated during those bigger moments. 

4. Empower Employees With Tools

The right technology can also help your employees celebrate each other without it being a major disruption to their normal workflows. Since they’re already collaborating in a variety of tools anyway, they have an easy and accessible outlet for them to offer some genuine cheers.

Need some ideas? You might want to consider: 

  • Creating a Trello board specifically for employee kudos. You could create a card for each employee where fellow team members can drop everything from kind comments to funny GIFs. Don’t want to start from scratch? You can use a template too.
  • Starting a Slack channel or weekly email thread where people can provide shoutouts and high-fives. Again, just make sure that people respect what their fellow team members are comfortable with.
  • Using a tool like Kudos within Slack. It’s a Slackbot that makes it easy for employees to offer recognition to their team members directly within a Slack channel. 

All of those are easy to implement, but don’t underestimate the power of something even as simple as an emoji reaction when somebody shares a recent win or achievement in Zoom, Slack, or Trello. 

The same part of our brain that processes facial expressions also processes emojis, so that seemingly inconsequential click of a button can actually go a long way in making people feel seen and celebrated. 

Recognition Doesn’t Need To Be A Huge Undertaking

Recognition—whether it’s from a leader or from our fellow team members—matters. Yet, it’s something that easily slides to the back burner (or even off the stove entirely) in the hustle and bustle of our daily work lives. 

Here’s the thing, though: Celebrating other people’s contributions and accomplishments doesn’t need to be a major responsibility added to our already-lengthy to-do lists. 

There are plenty of straightforward and low-pressure ways that you can incorporate peer recognition into your existing processes and workflows—and then reap the rewards of a team that feels appropriately recognized, valued, and appreciated. 

How to incorporate peer recognition into your processes and gain a more satisfied team