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Study Highlights Risks of Peer-to-Peer Recognition Programs

recognitionIt is well-known in the recognition field that the best results are achieved when the managers giving the recognition receive ongoing support and coaching on how best to express appreciation to employees. This study indicates that employees in peer-to-peer recognition programs require the same training.
“Public peer recognition might have adverse effects by facilitating employee comparisons, leading to feelings of unjust treatment among certain employees,” according to a recent experiment-based study by Pei Wang, a PhD candidate in accounting at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
The study, “When Peer Recognition Backfires: The Impact of Peer Information on Subsequent Helping Behavior” finds that "When employees perceive themselves deserving of peer recognition but do not receive it, they may perceive unfair treatment. Consequently, their willingness to aid co-workers, not just the specific individual they feel mistreated by, diminishes," her study finds.
“In practical terms, employees may perceive certain behaviors as unfair during public peer recognition when there is a disagreement about what actions should or should not be acknowledged. Furthermore, some employees may only extend recognition to individuals in their immediate circle, which can contribute to a sense of unfairness.”
The study used a controlled experiment involving three individuals in distinct roles—recognizer, helper, and worker—to examine the impact of peer recognition on subsequent willingness to help among employees. In the experiment, both the helper and the worker provide assistance to the recognizer, but only the helper receives recognition from the recognizer. As a result, the study finds, “The worker displays reduced willingness to assist both the recognizer and the helper when they perceive their initial assistance surpasses that of the helper. Conversely, when the worker perceives their initial assistance is lower than that of the helper, their willingness to assist the helper is higher. This decreased willingness to help the helper stems from a reciprocal response to the recognizer's lack of recognition.”
The author asserts that “These findings offer valuable insights for employers seeking to implement peer recognition strategies in the workplace. While peer recognition is often promoted as a means to enhance employees' willingness to assist others, the study results indicate the importance of managers being aware of the potential drawbacks associated with such systems.”
Wang suggests “that managers engage in open communication with employees and establish mutually agreed-upon guidelines regarding what types of accomplishments or behaviors should be acknowledged through public peer recognition and what might not require such recognition. This proactive approach can help mitigate the negative impact of perceived unfairness and promote a more positive and inclusive work environment.”

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