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Everything you need to know about social recognition in five minutes


Five years ago, very few HR pros were talking about social recognition. Now, it’s at the forefront of our business. And it takes up much more space in the HR world.

Having a coherent understanding of social recognition, and employee recognition, isn’t negotiable any more. Your leaders need it.

This blog outlines the basics of social recognition. Get to grips with the idea in just five minutes.

Employee recognition at a glance

To get why social recognition is so important, you need to be familiar with employee recognition overall.

Employee recognition is about validating and affirming positive actions.

It creates positive reinforcement that encourages more good behaviour. That has a knock-on effect of improving your company, and company culture.

What you’re highlighting could be many things. Anything from a metric-driven success to an example of someone living out your company’s values. When you recognise behaviour, you highlight it as desirable.

Making staff feel good about that makes them more likely to repeat it.

Keeping that recognition close to your values has benefits, too. It strengthens your company’s sense of identity and purpose. In turn, that helps you build engagement.

Social recognition explained

social recognition described at a glanceSocial recognition is recognition that doesn’t have to follow your company’s hierarchy.

The recognition is between peers, across departments, from lower in seniority to the higher. There’s no restrictions on who recognises who.

Most employees already do a version of this. Probably verbally, with a hand-written note, or through an email.

Telling each other job well done, saying thanks for some help from another team. While it’s normal, it’s limited to just those two employees.

Social recognition platforms give those expressions a public venue. It makes sure the recognition is in line with your values.

And it gives all employees a central place to post and read messages of gratitude from around the business.

When the recognition is public , other employees can see what’s important to company culture.

Then everyone can see for themselves what’s important to their colleagues and the company.

Where social recognition beats top-down recognition

As we’ve pointed out, recognition is traditionally top-down. Managers recognise their employees for notable behaviour.

That recognition is valuable, but it doesn’t have the same effect as social recognition.

Top-down recognition doesn’t empower staff, or encourage a culture of mutual appreciation.

Employees showing appreciation for each other has impacts top-down recognition can’t match.

Social recognition builds connections

social recognition connects employeesSocial recognition builds the strength of the bonds between employees. Staff feel valued and feel that their efforts are noticed and celebrated.
This improves mood at work, and builds strong connections with their colleagues.
It also builds attachments between employee behaviour and your company values. Increasing employee engagement depends on strong links between positive behaviour and company values. 
Channeling achievement through those values builds engagement with your business and your goals. It lets employees see how they’re having an impact on something bigger than their daily tasks.

Social recognition improves businesses

Individuals, teams and organisations benefit from social recognition’s effects. It makes a difference to a range of areas, including:


Social recognition makes teams work better together. Recognised employees see that they’re a valued member of a team.

When they feel valuable and respected, they work better with peers. In turn, they become more valuable to that team. When these patterns repeat themselves across department, teamwork is significantly uplifted.


Leaders can take a top-down view of who recognises across a social recognition system.

This gives your managers key insight on how your employees interact (or don’t, as it might be). As we’ll explain below, managers can also capitalise on a social recognition system to recognise staff.


When your values are celebrated daily, they come to life. Your employees see that you’re earnest about them.

And they see that employees who live them out are recognised by their peers. This creates more ethical behaviour in the future.


Knowing that your contributions are valued at work reduces stress.

There’s less worry about an employee’s place in social hierarchy or team. Reducing stress is a major factor in employee wellbeing.


A good environment for staff improves how they see your company. By bringing your values to life, you let employees see your company as ethical.

By recognising their contributions, you make staff feel good about being associated with their colleagues and your company.


Together these benefits improve your company’s culture. The recognition helps everyone feel closer.

Closer to each other, and closer to your company and what it stands for. That makes it easier for employees to embrace your company and become more engaged staff.

The benefits of recognition are measurable

Companies that take recognition seriously see measurable boosts to measurable boosts in performance. They include:

  • Loyalty
  • ‘Recognition-rich’ working environments have a 31% lower employee turnover rate.*
  • Productivity
  • Companies that practice strategic peer-to-peer recognition cite a 32% increase in productivity**
  • Engagement
  • Employee engagement is observed to increase by 61% when employee recognition programs are offered.+
  • Profit
  • A 15% higher employee engagement rate correlates with 2% percent uplift in operating margins.~

Managers can still chip in

Opening the floor to social recognition doesn’t mean managers are left out of the conversation.

It’s still vital that leaders make sure they recognise the positive and outstanding things their staff do.

Having an open platform is also a gift to managers. It gives leaders a bird’s-eye view of who is recognising who, and for what.

Acts of recognition a manager might have missed become visible. That gives managers a chance to double-down on recognition, and offer their own congratulations.

Summing up social recognition

Social recognition is celebrating positive behaviour without relying on company hierarchies.

It’s held close to the values of your organisation, to keep employees close to your company’s values.

This builds engagement with the company. And it strengthens the bonds between employees.

Ultimately that helps you build more loyal, satisfied and productive staff.

*Bersin by Deloitte research
+ Society of Human Resource Management 2012 study
** 2015 SHRM/Globoforce survey
~ Towers Watson