Research: The Effect of Peer-to-Peer Recognition

How effective is peer-to-peer internal recognition? Can external recognition from customers or clients be beneficial? A research paper from Harvard Business School titled “Seeking to Belong: How the Words of Internal and External Beneficiaries Influence Performance” examined just that. Here we’ll look into what the research found and how companies can benefit from it.

The difference between internal and external beneficiary recognition

The paper explores the differences between the effects of recognition from internal beneficiaries of one’s work compared to recognition from external beneficiaries. Internal beneficiaries would include one’s colleagues and external beneficiaries would include stakeholders external to the organisation.

Essentially, if your work benefits one of your colleagues, they are an internal beneficiary of your work. If your work benefits a client or stakeholder external to the company, they are an external beneficiary.

The research findings

The study found that interactions with internal beneficiaries can ‘dramatically increase motivation and performance.’ It also found that interactions with external beneficiaries have little to no effect on motivation, performance and output.

Recognition is recognition, right? So, what is it specifically about recognition from internal beneficiaries that boosts motivation and performance?

Why are employees more motivated by the words of internal beneficiaries?

Essentially, internal recognition boosts employees’ sense of belongingness.

The research explores this in further detail.

Employees were split into two groups, one receiving recognition from internal beneficiaries and one experiencing recognition from external beneficiaries. Those in the internal beneficiary group reported experiencing higher levels of belongingness and higher levels of motivation.

This was also reflected in their productivity and output. The first study in the research found a 7% increase in output relating to positive recognition from employees.

It might not sound much, however peer-to-peer recognition costs the company nothing.

On the flip side, those who experienced recognition from external beneficiaries reported very little change in motivation and output.

What can companies do?

There are a few things companies could do based on this research that could boost motivation, productivity and output.

The first thing organisations should consider is job design. How can companies design jobs to facilitate a sense of belongingness in employees?

Also, how can companies encourage and incorporate a culture of recognising and rewarding peers for a job well done?

Companies and managers could also encourage more peer-to-peer recognition.

How Reward & Recognition can help

The findings in this study point towards the importance of reward and recognition and more specifically peer-to-peer recognition.

So, how can this be made easier for everyone at the company?

Incorporating R&R and peer-to-peer recognition as part of your employee benefits or HR platform is a great place to start.

This would allow employees to easily recognise and thank their colleagues for a job well done.

A sense of belonging is clearly a great motivator for employees based on this research. It’s worth noting that while the research emphasises the effect of internal recognition, it also highlights that any way to boost an employee’s sense of belonging is likely to increase motivation, productivity and output. Peer-to-peer recognition through your employee benefits platform is a great way to encourage internal recognition.