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Employee Recognition

Part Three: How peer-to-peer recognition impacts engagement


Unlocking the Power of Engagement: Five Part Series.

While we see great examples of exceptional performance using awards (monetary and non-monetary), it is when employees recognize each other (peer-to-peer), that engagement really excels. Why? It comes down to frequency and reach. Yes, managers play a big part in driving an effective rewards and recognition program but no manager sees all the good work from their team. Without visibility to all work, we can’t appreciate the great efforts of all our employees. In effect, it takes a village to achieve the goals we set in our rewards and recognition program.

Best practices for enabling effective peer-to-peer recognitions include:

  • Encourage employees to add a bonus incentive to recognitions such as points that can be redeemed for something like a gift card, something on their bucket list, or even donate to a charity.
  • Drive recurrence by setting a weekly expiration deadline for awarding points to each other.
  • Have managers add more points to peer recognitions.
  • Ensure senior leaders monitor peer recognitions and celebrate.
  • Review the recognition leaderboard in team meetings and showcase peer-to-peer recognitions.

In addition, the organization must adopt a broad strategy for an effective program that both drives employee engagement and work performance. It requires adopting the right reinforcements along with a solid foundation.

What Reinforcements Will Impact Employee Performance?

Often, we look at individual ways to reinforce performance and drive engagement. But why shouldn’t we look to applying a combination of levers to a bigger gain? A study by Alex Stajkovic and Fred Luthans in 2003 looked at this question and found that it is the combination that truly drives better results. They looked at the individual reinforcements of money, feedback and social recognition and then the combination of two or more to see what changed in employee performance.


While most organizations have adopted cash as the primary monetary reward, other contingencies can also be adopted (e.g. gift cards, prizes, paid vacation, time off etc.). Money is often seen as the primary form of exchange and can be used to purchase other goods and services. However, money does not always connect to job performance as it doesn’t necessarily come attached to any additional information on the organization’s connection to job performance. For example, if the company provides a raise to an employee for an overall recognition of work, it usually represents the broader view of the performance instead of a specific instance. This is likely due to the managers wanting to see sustained output before providing a salary increase. A bonus does have a closer connection to a shorter window of performance but is often connected to a metric or goal instead of a general level of performance. An example of a monetary reinforcement on the Bucketlist Rewards platform would be through customizable points that can be redeemed for gift cards, experiences


Feedback at work comes in many ways and is often a reflection of job performance within the employee’s role. The importance of feedback (often from manager to employee) is that it ensures the worker understands when they achieve the requirements of the role and when they don’t. In addition, this feedback constantly provides additional role clarity that is specific and timely.

Social Recognition

As Social Recognition has become a big part of many people’s lives, it is no surprise that the impact is seen at the workplace. A strength of this kind of reinforcement is that, within a structured workplace environment (such as Bucketlist’s platform), it typically drives a positive connection. By making recognition public, the activity “conveys genuine personal involvement, appreciation, and gratitude for the successful performance”.

Overall, the researchers found that “money fosters effort, feedback clarifies the task role, and social recognition predicts future outcomes”. However, it is in the combination that the true value is seen.

  • C1 = Combination 1 (simultaneous application of money and feedback); 
  • C2 = Combination 2 (simultaneous application of money and social recognition); 
  • C3 = Combination 3 (simultaneous application of feedback and social recognition); 
  • C4 = Combination 4 (simultaneous application of money, feedback, and social recognition).
peer recognition
The Percentage Effects of Reinforcement Interventions on Employee Performance (Stajkovic and Luthans, 2003)

The results of the research clearly show that while money has a moderately higher impact than social recognition or feedback alone, the combination of all three saw a significant increase in employee performance over any one reinforcement tool.

How does Peer Recognition Motivate Differently?

People are driven both by intrinsic (internally desire/ rewarding to self) and extrinsic (external factor/ earn a reward or avoid punishment) motivation. While manager-to-employee recognition is important, workers often see this as a part of their role and exchange with the employer. However, when co-workers recognize a peer, it is seen differently. This peer recognition is mostly unexpected and likely perceived as authentic. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, peer recognition connects to both love and belonging needs and to self-esteem needs. In addition to receiving recognition from a coworker, the research shows that there is often a desire for reciprocity and triggers a pay-it-forward act. This drives far more acts of recognition for weeks and weeks. All that goodness for a minor investment!

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