Back to Basics: What Is Social Recognition?

June 29, 2021 Mike Lovett

happy man with hands up in front of laptopYou probably know someone who has expressed frustrated with not feeling seen, heard, or rewarded at work. (Maybe it’s even been you.) They’ve spent long hours on a project or gone unnoticed in meetings. They’re not happy, not engaged, and not really all that eager to stay if a better opportunity comes along.  

They’re also probably not alone. Their peers are likely having a similar  experience. For that individual, the solution could be simply finding a new job. For a company with an employee engagement issue, the solution is more extensive. 

While there is no single silver bullet to fixing employee engagement, the perfect place to start engaging your employees is by implementing a peer-to-peer social recognition program.  

Wide-reaching and holistic, social recognition instills a sense of appreciation and acknowledgement at every level of a company. It can reduce turnoverincrease productivity, revitalize a company’s culture, and even improve the bottom line

So, what does social recognition mean? What does it look like? What are the benefits? All great questions. Let’s dive in. 

What is social recognition? 


Social recognition, or peer-to-peer recognition, is the act of employees empowering and acknowledging one another for great work. It is a meaningful source of motivation and, when it’s a company habit, it becomes the backbone to an inclusive and collaborative working  environment.  

Social recognition programs allow anyone in the company to share experiences, award achievements, and extend congratulations. The result is a sense of belonging, purpose, and achievement throughout the workforce.  

What are some examples of social recognition? 

Social recognition can be deployed for, in short, anything: a quarterly campaign lifting off the ground, a promotion, a team effort to make someone else’s job easier, even a birthday. 

You can easily assign various tiers to your reward system, so not every item of recognition is weighted equally. But everything from website redesigns to work anniversaries earns the appropriate level of praise. 

It all starts with your company’s values. These should serve as a lens in which you view moments of recognition and a model for what you hope employees emulate.  

A major campaign demonstrates the value of innovation and dedication just as a celebrating a birthday contributes to the value of a positive, inclusive, and more human workplace.  

What are the different types of recognition?

Recognition takes on many forms. Bonuses and e-thanks qualify, as do shout outs and positive reviews. 

Whatever the type, it’s the consistency of social recognition that will help it take hold and create a more sustainable and profound impact. Multiple tiers to the reward system encourage consistent recognition at every level and a public feed amplifies the great moments happening across your company. 

What are the benefits of social recognition?

The benefits of social recognition can be transformative for a business. It starts with employees feeling more valued and more inspired, which cascades into gains in productivity and drops in turnover rate, two seismic measures of a positive work environment.

  • Employees who received recognition at First Tech Credit Union were 2.5x less likely to leave.  
  • LinkedIn employees who were awarded 4+ times in a year had a retention rate of 96%.  
  • Baystate Health scored in the 99th percentile in the New England region on the recognition component of its 2018 employee survey and found the turnover rate was 7x lower for nurses who received recognition three or more times.   

Social recognition gives everyone visibility into the great work happening around the company. Managers and higher-level folks see the daily above-and-beyond efforts and reward them on the spot. Moments of celebration don’t fall through the cracks and employees are less likely to feel overlooked.  

When social recognition is widely-adopted employees will be more likely to engage in and hype up the work of their peers. They’ll build stronger bonds with the people they are talking to and collaborating with every day, which can reduce stress, boost confidence, and establish psychological safety across the company.  

What is the best form of social recognition?

That’s a bit of a trick question. The truth is, the best form of social recognition is one that is hardwired into your company’s order of operations. One where it’s as commonplace as sending an email.

It might not start that way. It may take months for it to catch on and become a process that doesn’t need reminding. But in time, positive changes will compound, and a more supportive company culture will emerge.


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