The academic research is clear that employee recognition is one of several keys elements in creating healthy positive organizations.
It was gratifying several years ago to meet Dr. Jean-Pierre Brun, from the University of Laval, and learn from his research how the lack of recognition is a key factor for psychological distress at work.
When employees are treated in a positive manner they have greater positive, psychological functioning which leads to greater wellbeing and health.
But is there a difference between recognition received from supervisors and managers versus from an employee’s peers?
Measuring Recognition and Wellbeing
Researchers in Spain, Drs. Dolores Merino and Jesús Privado, from the Universidad Complutense, decided to investigate the topic of whether recognition improves positive psychological functioning (PPF).
Various validated tools were used to measure life satisfaction, happiness, and general wellbeing. They further evaluated the impact of recognition of work performance given by peers (termed as being a lateral level) and by supervisors (referred to as vertical level; Brun & Dugas, 2008) since those are the most common sources of recognition.
I thought this last objective was fascinating because I’m often asked if employees prefer recognition from their boss or from their coworkers. The authors used a 9-point Likert scale asking about supervisor recognition using, “My supervisors consider me a valuable worker” and for recognition provided by co-workers by asking “My co-workers value my work”.
And finally, they used their own Positive Psychological Functioning Scale (Merino & Privado, 2015). This tool was used to measure what is called psychological key resources, namely: autonomy, resilience, self-esteem, purpose in life, enjoyment, optimism, curiosity, creativity, humor, environmental mastery, and vitality.
Impact of Recognition on Wellbeing
What this study reveals is that recognition does not directly impact wellbeing. However, wellbeing is strongly affected by PPF. The fascinating outcomes from the regression analysis and other statistical computations are that recognition directly affects PPF and indirectly affects wellbeing.
Supervisors versus Peers
Here’s what Merino and Privado’s research teaches us about supervisor versus peer-to-peer recognition.
It appears that supervisors’ recognition predicts less PPF (r = .20) than co-workers’ recognition (r = .39). And neither the supervisors’ recognition nor recognition from employees’ coworkers directly explained wellbeing.
Apparently, the effect of employee recognition on wellbeing is mediated by enhancing positive psychological functioning.
I have summarized what the researchers discovered and provided you with some their implications for you in your role:
1. Employee recognition promotes positive wellbeing. It may not be a direct correlation as some have thought, but recognition’s impact on PPF which influences wellbeing shows a strong connection. The authors also showed that a lack of recognition worsens PPF and thereby negatively affects wellbeing.
Implications: Start incorporating measures of psychological health and wellbeing into your metrics to demonstrate recognition correlations.
2. Recognition encourages recognition giving. When supervisors are valued and appreciated they tend to reciprocate with recognizing employees. This leads to employees recognizing their coworkers.
Implications: Make sure there is concentrated focus by leaders in recognizing supervisors and managers. This is one of the best ways to promote recognition giving – from the top down and all around.
Coworker recognition has double the impact on positive psychological functioning than supervisor recognition does.
3. Peer-to-peer recognition has a big impact. Coworker recognition has double the impact on positive psychological functioning than supervisor recognition does. Referring to Brun & Dugas’ research they suggest that peer-to-peer recognition appears to act as a sign of membership, integration, and acceptance.
Implications: If you haven’t already done so, build in and market a social recognition program for your employees. Put an emphasis on peer-to-peer recognition into your overall recognition strategy. Make sure to allow employees greater access to the rest of your recognition programs.
Recognition Reflection: Do you correlate your recognition metrics with any wellbeing measures?
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.