Benefits of peer recognition schemes

Feeling appreciated by colleagues can lead to higher staff productivity and motivation levels, so David Woods looks at the benefits of peer recognition schemes

Whether we like to admit it or not, our colleagues’ opinions of us have a bearing on our motivation levels at work. Although this is evident in all industries, perhaps the most well-known example of peer recognition can be found in the entertainment industry in the shape of the Oscars.

Mark Hoyal, head of the European leadership practice at Hewitt Associates, explains: “There is often a lot of emotion at Oscars ceremonies. This is because the winners are nominated by the academy of actors and this peer recognition is such a big thing for them.”

A workplace where staff appreciate and respect their colleagues will typically have much higher engagement levels, morale and productivity than one where staff do not value their own worth and the role of other employees. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, says: “Most human beings in the work environment rarely know what contribution they are making because no one ever tells them.”

Hoyal adds: “It is much easier for employers to tell their staff about the 20% of things they could improve on, rather than the 80% of tasks they do really well.”

Peer recognition schemes are a good way of rewarding staff for their hard work and making them feel valued by colleagues as well as their superiors. “Reward and praise can motivate staff and make them feel good about their contribution to work,” says Cooper.

Put simply, such schemes are based on the notion that staff can nominate fellow employees for a reward. From these nominations, management will usually then decide which are the most deserving. The idea is that staff who are nominated will receive positive feedback from the people who work on their level each day. This can be rewarding for them as individuals, but also has the potential to motivate and engage entire teams.

Employers looking to introduce a peer recognition scheme are able to structure the plan in a number of different ways. For example, an employee could contact their manager in order to nominate a colleague, or a dedicated committee of non-managerial staff could be set up to suggest nominees. Employers could also install software giving each employee access to an online account to nominate their peers, and detail the reasons why. These nominations are recorded and line managers receive emails about who the nominees are, and who put them forward. If the nomination is approved, in some cases, a reward can be made instantly online.

Steve Baker, new business director at Project Link Motivation, believes peer recognition schemes have a number of benefits for both employers and employees. “Peer recognition demonstrates to the workforce that management trusts them and, on a practical level, it rewards people for day-to-day events their employers never get to see.”

However, for a scheme to work properly, it must have clear rules in place about how it operates. Nick Wake, head of marketing communications at Grass Roots, says: “Organisations need to develop a framework which is clearly communicated to all [staff].”

This means there must be clear criteria in place so that staff know what they must do to be in with a chance of being nominated.

One potential pitfall is that employees will nominate people they like, rather than exceptional workers. Cooper, however, believes this is a misconception. “The scheme should be pretty unbiased and there should be clear guidelines, a member of staff will not win a competition like this on the basis of friendship. If an employee has a lot of friends, it follows they have done something productive in the workplace in order to be liked,” he explains.

Employers should also keep a watch out for line managers, individuals or indeed whole departments who do not engage with the programme in the right spirit. “The risks can be mitigated by clear criteria, line manager approval and putting the approved nominations in the public domain. A good web-based scheme makes all of these things easily achievable. A robust reporting mechanism will also flag any problems very quickly,” says Wake.

Employers may also wish to consider offering a small reward to staff who make nominations. There is a chance that if they receive no recognition they may not make a nomination again, particularly if they can’t see that it has been considered.

A further consideration is the reward that successful nominees receive and the number of prizes that should be awarded. “If a budget can only pay one person, but two people display the same value at the same time, the scheme will become a lottery and staff will grow cynical,” says Baker.

Equally, employers should avoid spreading rewards too thinly. “No one will be motivated if everyone gets a reward,” adds Hoyal.

When it comes to prizes, financial incentives may not always be the most appropriate reward, according to Wake. “Rewards should be non-cash. Research shows treats and pampering have the greatest motivational impact,” he says.

One option is to offer employees a degree of choice around their reward, for example, by offering products such as retail vouchers and experience days. Some employers, meanwhile, may choose to present trophies or certificates in an annual award ceremony in front of winners’ peers, while others may offer one prize, such as a trip away, to all winners for the year.

But Cooper claims the prize is not the most important motivational tool. “Recognition is the most important thing and a prize would be the icing on the cake. I don’t think there needs to be money attached. Its contribution is in enhancing the person’s self image and making them feel they are contributing positively to the organisation,” he says.

A good recognition plan will not only recognise the achievements of individuals, but will also build a positive feeling among staff through the nomination process.

Top tips

  1. Staff should be encouraged to justify their decisions in their nominations. This means that they cannot nominate a member of staff just because they are friends, but must be able to show that the colleague they have nominated has exceeded the expectations of their job.
  2. There should be a sense of immediacy in the process, so an employee is rewarded at the right time.
  3. Employees should be made aware of the identity of those receiving the awards and the reasons why they were chosen. This will prevent them questioning the decisions and, in turn, realise where they could improve their own performance.
  4. It is important to recognise as many people as possible. Employers should not simply pick one winner and label the rest losers, but have a number of staff who are commended as this will have maximum motivational impact.
  5. The reward criteria should be clear and balanced to give as many employees as possible the chance to be nominated.

Case study: GNER

GNER bats on firm wicket for peer recognition
Transport company GNER holds an annual awards ceremony to recognise and reward employees’ efforts, which includes a peer-nominated category.

This year, the event was extended to all employees instead of being restricted to the firm’s customer service staff, as in previous years. Various prizes, including theatre tickets and a free flight, were presented to staff at a ceremony by cricketer Darren Gough.

Staff could nominate their peers for the title of Employees’ employee of the year. This was awarded to a number of employees from different areas of the business. The winners were determined by the number of votes each received, providing the nominations were deemed valid, rather than based on friendship.

The event was communicated throughout the company from May and all employees were encouraged to nominate colleagues who they thought deserved an award.

Jane Birch, benefits manager, says: “The nomination process sent a buzz around the company.”