Why Peer Recognition is the Most Important Form of Validation

Money ensures the basis of every employee’s needs. But pay alone is not enough for employees to be successful, engaged and satisfied at their jobs. Combining peer recognition and intrinsic motivation, on top of pay and equitable opportunities, is the perfect setting in which company culture can blossom.

June 27, 2023 By Ravijojla Novakovic Share on Twitter! Share on Facebook! Share on LinkedIn!


Employee recognition has been a part of human resource management practices for centuries, but the way in which it is done has evolved over time. Recognition started in the Ancient Times, with exceptional people getting laurels and various crowns for their achievements. However, peer recognition is a newer concept that companies started harnessing fairly recently. 

Most of the development of the concept and approach to employee recognition happened during the last 100 years. It’s only since the 1920’s, that recognition as a practice started taking on a more humanistic approach to employee recognition, moving away from a focus on productivity and efficiency to a more holistic approach that emphasizes employee satisfaction, wellbeing, and engagement.

What is peer recognition?

Peer recognition is the practice of praising and recognizing the successes, contributions, and positive traits of one’s coworkers, peers, or teammates. It entails appreciating someone else’s work or behavior and acknowledging and valuing their efforts.

Peer recognition can take many different forms, like verbal praise, written acknowledgment, or public acknowledgment. Since peer appreciation contributes to creating an environment where individuals feel valued and appreciated, it can substantially impact the workplace morale, motivation, and productivity.

According to Josh Bersin, “As today’s workplace environment becomes increasingly automated, dispersed and diverse, employers need to do more to improve employee engagement. Strategic employee engagement and recognition programs, when developed properly, are significant drivers of the authentic engagement the modern workforce is expecting.” 

➼ Learn How Peer to Peer Recognition Shapes Company Culture 

Reasons Why Peer Recognition is the Most Important Form of Validation

Peer recognition is an essential form of validation that can help individuals build their reputation, improve their performance, and enhance their sense of belonging in their professional community. 

Ideally, a recognition platform hosts different kinds of recognition programs, peer recognition co-exists with top-down and leadership and management (bottom-up) recognition programs, and companies adopt flexible R&R platforms that are flexible to accommodate different workforce demographic’s needs.

Top-down recognition, recognition from an employee’s manager, still matters a great deal, but as it turns out, peer recognition should be encouraged just as much, and treated as a highly effective method in a company’s recognition strategy. 

According to Gallup’s 2022 research, employees who receive recognition only a few times a year from leaders are 5x as likely to be actively disengaged, while employees who receive recognition only a few times a year from peers are 3x as likely to be disengaged. 

There’s evidence that leadership and management recognition (bottom-up recognition) is a topic that companies need to start addressing, too. Gallup’s research states that 38% of senior leaders strongly agree with the amount of recognition they receive, while only 22% of individual contributors feel so, 20% of project managers, and 17% of people managers. 

Clearly, we’re seeing a hunger for recognition to be more equitable on all levels across the organizational hierarchical structure, and recognition to be encouraged to be ongoing, immediate and frequent, across departments, hybrid and remote teams, including everyone, from deskless to desktop employees, leaders and managers. 

With peer-to-peer recognition, as opposed to top-down recognition, a wider pool of people are involved in the recognition practice, so recognition can become democratic, frequent and authentic. Peer recognition gives all employees the autonomy to practice company values in action.

A deeper dive into reasons that make peer recognition the most important form of validation follows: 

1. Peer recognition is immediate

Oftentimes, coworkers and peers are the first to know that a project has been completed. A person’s peers see an employee’s progress and activity daily, unlike leaders who simply don’t have as much time to spend with their team members.

Immediate recognition after a win is a great way to spark positive interaction among peers, and there’s a reasoning behind why this works. 

Based on the premise that human behavior is influenced and shaped by consequences of past behavior, according to David Skinner’s Reinforcement theory, reinforcing desirable behavior with various rewards can influence a person’s behavior. 

Reinforcement theory was first proposed by psychologists Ivan Pavlov (behavioral conditioning) and B. F. Skinner (operant conditioning). Reinforcement theory states that positive behaviors should be positively rewarded.

Recognition relies on positive, continuous reinforcement, as the positive feelings of accomplishments should be harnessed early on after a successful completion and often enough, to keep the engagement steady and rising. In other words, when it comes to employee success, wealth and success must be put to productive use soon after a project or activity has been completed.

According to the social psychology professor Dr. Robert B. Cialdini: “We view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.” His principle of social proof is visible in recognition – the more a certain behavior is iterated in a way that is publicly and often seen – the more people will be repeating the actions that lead to recognition.  

These two principles combine wonderfully in peer recognition, when peers thank each other for working and achieving a goal together – daily – on a consolidated R&R system, they will be more motivated to do more of the same behavior that led to recognition. They become more motivated, productive and in line with companies’ goals.  

2. Peer recognition is unbiased evaluation 

Unlike supervisors or subordinates, peers are not affected by personal prejudices or conflicts of interest. Peer acknowledgment thereby offers a more impartial assessment of a person’s performance.

Peer recognition can be extremely helpful to managers when it comes to discovering hidden qualities, or soft skills, that coworkers notice in their peers during their daily interactions, but managers can’t always see. 

Recognition messages on a public, social wall that companies use to engage employees is an excellent way to read about the nuanced contributions of each team member that led to successful teamwork. 

For example, those team members who did not play the main role in the completion of a project, but provided support in any way they could – should also be given due recognition when celebrating. The more such recognition becomes a practice, the whole act becomes a gift that keeps on giving, employees giving and receiving recognition back and forth. 

When recognition programs are tailored to companies’ needs, ideally, recognition extends to the entire workforce, and everyone is empowered to give and receive recognition, equitably.

Another one of Roberto Cialdini’s principles are at work with recognition: reciprocity; a human innate tendency to treat others as they’ve treated us. Giving someone recognition means encouraging people to recognize you back, and ignite a recognition circle of cheering each other on. Recognition becomes a joint practice people gladly participate in, as they acknowledge and reflect on big and small winds.  

3. Peer recognition is highly motivating

Peer recognition is a powerful motivator. When it is timely and authentic, peer recognition can boost someone’s self-esteem, increase their sense of belonging, and motivate them to pursue excellence. 

Peer recognition, in the way that peers provide recognition based on their common interaction with their peers, seeing their peers in everyday work environments over periods of time, and being seen by their peers, uses the social mechanism that is referred to as the Hawthorne Effect

The term Hawthorne Effect was coined by researcher Henry A. Landsberger in the 1920’s when researching the effect of changing work conditions to influence workers’ behavior. A form of human behavioral response known as the Hawthorne effect occurs when people change a pattern of behavior because they become aware that they are being observed. 

There is something different in the way we act when we know we are being watched, and how we want to put our best foot forward when others observe us, especially when we are being observed by our superiors. However, a manager only has a certain amount of hours per day – and can not possibly observe everyone as much as a person’s peer can. 

The Hawthorne effect is still a widely researched term, and scientists still do not know the exact nature of how this effect works, and to what extent does the very awareness of being seen by one’s peers influence employee behavior. This is one of the groundbreaking early researches that opened topics and sparked discoveries on human talent management and what are proper and humane conditions for work. 

What is certain is that knowing that our efforts matter, and seeing the preferred behavior being rewarded by recognition or any meaningful way of recognizing people’s efforts will trigger employees to conform to the expected norm, and align to company values, and exhibit the same behavior to a larger extent. 

Peer recognition operates on a principle that when wins are celebrated and efforts recognized, work becomes a more humane and rewarding action in itself, challenges are being accepted with more vigor and curiosity, and work is an exploration of growth and self-actualization. It’s almost like work becoming a gamified experience in the eyes of employees.  

Here recognition relies on another motivation principle: intrinsic motivation

According to researchers Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci: 

“Intrinsic motivation is defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence. When intrinsically motivated a person is moved to act for the fun or challenge entailed rather than because of external prods, pressures, or rewards…These spontaneous behaviors, although clearly bestowing adaptive benefits on the organism, appear not to be done for any such instrumental reason, but rather for the positive experiences associated with exercising and extending one’s capacities.”

Non-monetary recognition programs speak to people’s needs to feel competent. Because peer recognition works both ways, it provides both an honest, authentic appreciation of someone’s work, and feedback based on actual, real-time activities and accomplishments, it stimulates employee’s sense of self-accomplishment.  

“Trends such as remote work, the need for more flexibility at work, employee wellbeing, the Great Resignation, AI technology, multigenerational workforce are shaping the new era of work and changing the way people work and what they expect from a workplace. One thing remains certain, employees want to feel valued and appreciated for the work they do. Employee recognition is a must-have for a thriving company culture and a key component of company success, in some cases resulting in 175% higher employee engagement and 20% lower attrition.”  – Sofija Tancheva, Product Marketing Specialist


4. Peer recognition aids professional development 

Peer recognition can also provide valuable feedback that can help individuals identify opportunities for improvement and guide their professional development.

Because peers see each other every day through their challenges and small and big wins, they are fully aware of each other’s development. Feedback based on peer’s standpoints are authentic acknowledgments that are exceptionally meaningful, because people find great satisfaction in being seen in their growth process.

Additionally, recognition programs can be tailored to stimulate learning and development in a company, by rewarding employees for completing a course, or getting employees interested in upskilling and reskilling in order to promote internal mobility within the company to solve talent gap issues. The applications of recognition in the context of professional development are many and long-reaching.  

5. Recognition makes work meaningful 

Pride over a successful project makes wonders for engaging employees and stimulating employees to feel ownership over their effort. 

When employees feel ownership over their tasks and overall work, they feel more in control over their work situation, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment.  

The sense of ownership in turn empowers employees to take new tasks and responsibilities with more vigor, commitment and engagement. 

Also, we’re also hardwired for praise. 

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a theory on motivation, an individual’s behavior is dictated by 5 categories of human needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs. The 5-tier model is ranked; with physiological needs taking priority placement, and self-actualization coming into play when all other needs have been satisfied. 

If we take Maslow’s model and apply it to the workplace, we’ll see what we knew previously: that employees need a well rounded Total Rewards package to satisfy their basic needs: physiological and safety. 

However, we already know that a human needs more than that to be truly engaged and happy, so recognition steps in to support an employee’s feeling of belonging and self-actualization. If an employee feels they are accepted, psychologically safe in a workplace, and they feel their work matters – we’re getting close to satisfying all of those needs, and employees can be their best self at work. 


6. Peer recognition is laterally focused

Top-down recognition reinforces a top-down hierarchical structure, while peer-to-peer recognition encourages everyone’s agency in achieving, and being valued for accomplishments. 

In traditional hierarchical organizations, power and authority are concentrated at the top of the organizational chart, and employees are expected to follow the instructions and decisions of their superiors. This top-down approach can lead to a lack of commitment and motivation among employees, as they may feel disconnected from the decision-making process and undervalued.

In contrast, lateral hierarchies are characterized by a flatter organizational structure where decision-making is distributed throughout the company and employees have the opportunity to take responsibility for their work and collaborate with others. Mutual recognition plays an important role in supporting lateral hierarchies by fostering a culture of collaboration and mutual support.

7. Peer recognition improves relationships at work

According to Beth Albright, NACD.DC, Global Transformation Leader:

“I believe that, fundamentally, people want to come to work, do a good job, feel like they make a difference and be recognized for their work. Our job is to provide them with the skills, encouragement and opportunities to have an impact.”    

Feeling good at work doesn’t only involve having good terms with bosses and good pay. People nowadays want to work in a company that nourishes its workforce and has a positive company culture. Relationships with coworkers impact employee experience and engagement more than previously thought. 

Bad relationships at work are costly, and no one enjoys them. 28% of work stress may stem from interpersonal struggles. Additionally, employee satisfaction rises significantly, nearly 50% when a worker develops a close relationship on the job.

According to the National Business Research Institute, out of “30% of workers who say they have a best friend at work, 56% are engaged, 33% not engaged, and 11% are actively disengaged, the two words most feared by any employer.”

For a successful team to work well together and be effective, trust is a must-have. Genuine recognition, authentic messages based on an employee’s real-time accomplishments, creates trust between employees, which positively impacts work efficiency and also benefits the company in the long term.


Peer recognition is a crucial component of validation since it offers an unbiased and impartial assessment of a person’s abilities and accomplishments. Peer acknowledgment comes from peers who have similar expertise and experience, unlike self-evaluation or compliments from a superior.

When recognition programs run smoothly and are consolidated across teams, divisions, departments and hierarchical structure, employees are aligned around a common purpose, are engaged with their tasks and give and receive recognition often and publicly. 

However, corporations and their HR departments are often overloaded with various people’s issues, such as change management, monitoring productivity and engagement, people retention, landing top talent, and solving them takes a lot of the bandwidth. 

Therefore, recognition programs need to be consolidated and automated as much as possible, to have the R&R programs almost run themselves. Each employee holds the key to autonomously contributing to a company’s culture, company achievements are celebrated in a democratic way, ensuring everyone gets seen for what they do. 

The best R&R vendors allow lots of customization to fine-tune the R&R programs in order to target specific groups of people separately or together, on a larger or smaller scale and scope, making transparency of use and benefits of Recognition programs known and well-communicated to employees, and employee experience a top priority. Used that way, employees will be encouraged to use it.