Employees may perceive peer recognition programmes as unfair 

While public peer recognition may be used to praise employees, the method can backfire, making them less willing to help others. 
By: | June 13, 2023

Public peer recognition, which has been used to recognise employees and their achievements in the workplace, can backfire by enabling comparisons among employees, which may make some employees feel unfairly treated.  

New research from the University of Waterloo, entitled When Peer Recognition Backfires: The Impact of Peer Information on Subsequent Helping Behaviour, used a three-employee setting composed of the recogniser, the helper and the worker, the research tested whether peer information disclosed by peer recognition systems affected employees’ subsequent willingness to help. They found that employees who get less acknowledgment for the work they do are less likely to help colleagues who also helped to work on the task, especially if they felt that their colleague received more praise over less quality work. 

Pei Wang, PhD candidate in accounting at Waterloo and one of the report’s researchers, said, “When employees feel that they deserve recognition from their peers but do not receive it, employees can conclude that they are unfairly treated, and this makes employees less willing to help other co-workers, not only the co-worker they feel treated them unfairly.”

READ MORE: Positive employee recognition improves business performance

While public peer recognition is a method used by employers to acknowledge and praise their employees; in practice, employees may view this as being unfair when they interpret what type of behaviour should and should not be recognised during public peer recognition.

“It may be helpful for managers to communicate with their employees and come up with some agreed-upon guidelines on what should be recognised via public peer recognition and what does not need to be recognised via public peer recognition,” Wang concluded.