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5 Companies That Nail a Culture of Peer Recognition

Lisa Ardill

Content Editor at Workvivo

22 Oct 2023

It’s little wonder that some of the world’s best-performing companies are those that understand the power of employee recognition. After all, when done well, it’s a key driver of productivity, growth, and innovation.

What’s interesting is that peer recognition – encouraging employees to recognize and appreciate each other’s efforts – is something they all promote in one way or another. 

Whether through direct programs or by creating the cultural conditions, for these companies, it’s a very intentional strategy. Because some forms of recognition are more impactful than others, companies that adopt a culture of peer recognition build higher-performing teams. 

According to a study by Harvard Business Review, teams that are high-performing are likely to receive more praise from colleagues (72% more) as well as managers (79% more).

Teams that work both in-person and remotely face unique recognition challenges. When employees are able to recognize and reward their colleagues’ efforts and achievements, it encourages a more connected, energized, and collaborative team mindset. 

Ultimately, a culture of appreciation boosts team performance and morale by creating a more positive work environment. 

So, how do some of the world’s biggest companies go about doing it?

Airbnb’s ‘small’ peer recognition gestures

Airbnb is committed to recognizing and rewarding employees regularly. As well as structured benefits, it encourages informal ‘small’ recognition gestures, like handwritten notes from managers and pop-up celebrations.  

The business prioritizes open communication by using online feedback forms to ensure everyone is heard. Two-way feedback helps identify and address employee concerns by giving them the opportunity to routinely share their ideas and suggestions.

Airbnb’s ‘employee experience’ group brings the company’s culture to life through internal comms, employee events, and recognition programs. 

It also promotes a peer recognition culture with an annual OneAirbnb event where employees share strategy and vision and learn from each other. 

With a list of perks that includes free gourmet meals and snacks, on-site fitness classes, pet-friendliness, and yearly travel credit, it’s clear that Airbnb takes employee experience seriously. 

Google’s peer-to-peer bonus system 

One of the best examples of peer recognition in action is Google. In fact, its employee recognition program is named ‘Peer Bonus’.

The program allows employees to recognize when their peers go above and beyond with personalized notes and messages on a shared platform. It comes with cash bonuses that depend on the type of contribution. The financial rewards vary, but the system encourages a culture of appreciation within the organization. 

The scheme also applies to open-source projects where contributors receive peer recognition from Google teams that rely on their work.  

Apple’s ‘surprise’ recognition 

Apple’s culture emphasizes peer recognition to motivate employees to interact and maintain rapport with each other. So much so, that it’s enshrined in its performance measures. A 360-degree process involves feedback from executives, managers, and peers. 

Employees are measured on three objectives; innovation, results, and teamwork. As well as rewarding specific achievements, Apple employs ‘surprise’ recognition like unexpected leave days to create memorable employee experiences when they are least expected. 

Disney: Appreciation that creates magic

Disney’s mission is to entertain, inform and inspire through the power of storytelling. Much of its success has grown from constant innovation and pushing boundaries – and it’s no different when it comes to employee recognition. 

To help create a sense of community among its 223,000 employees, Disney uses a digital recognition platform to help employees send thousands of recognition notes to their peers.

Its peer recognition program is designed to ‘show appreciation for each other’s work, creating magic and inspiring others.’ 

It’s fair to say that the company has a distinctly ‘Disney’ approach to employee engagement. If sunrise yoga in front of Cinderella Castle or access to the 19-acre Mickey’s Retreat is your thing, then you won’t mind if it’s a little goofy. 

More traditional forms of recognition include special pins and lifetime and service achievement awards.

Ryanair – quicker communication 

The airline known for its low fares across Europe is taking steps to help employees communicate with one another, share experiences, and foster inclusion. 

All employees across its 90 locations can access organization news, posts, and resources via mobile or desktop. 

Its employee experience platform allows for personalized communications, employee recognition, and motivational awards. Inputs gathered from employees through feedback polls are used to measure the company’s effectiveness against its cultural goals.

For Ryanair, real-time communication is essential to share information and create informality by allowing staff to participate, comment, and share messages much as they would on social media. 

Doing peer recognition right 

Recognition is complex; there is no single way to approach it. What works for some may not be as effective for others. Employees need recognition to feel appreciated and motivated to perform at their best, and the companies that do it best use a variety of tools and tactics. 

From informal rewards for those who shun the spotlight, to continuous smaller-scale acts of gratitude, it’s clear that recognition needs to feel natural, genuine, and not forced. 

That’s why these examples of companies that get it right are those that build recognition-first cultures. They inspire frequent, meaningful peer recognition to create an employee experience that’s always connected to their company values.