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Fueling engagement through the power of employee recognition

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How a quick high-five or shout-out can create a lasting impression

As a college athlete, I've experienced the power of a simple high five. High team morale was the foundation for the success of my college Ultimate Frisbee team, at the University of Arizona. We encouraged one another to practice like you play and motivated each other with what HR leaders might call peer-to-peer motivation and recognition.

Hundreds of high fives at practices, in games, and at tournaments fueled team relationships, contagiously motivated individuals, built team confidence, and advanced our connected community.

When individuals are identified for their performance, they are inclined to repeat that behavior; this action produces a double-dopamine effect, meaning that when individuals are recognized, they feel great and want the same feeling again and will repeat the action. This internal rush motivates employees to push themselves in their work performance and interactions with peers, driving elevated engagement. According to, 57% of employers that support peer-to-peer or horizontal recognition experience higher levels of employee engagement.

As younger generations enter the workforce (Generation Z and Millennials), the importance of horizontal accolades will likely increase. Being recognized for their efforts fuels self-perpetuating positivity, assuring them that they can do their work successfully. Horizontal praise also fosters trust and connectedness to other employees. When I first started at my "real world job", I was unsure how people would perceive my work and felt unclear about my performance level. After receiving kudos on different projects, both vertical praise from leadership and horizontal accolades from my co-workers, I felt more confident about my efforts and connected more easily with my new, professional peers.

Peer recognition is important to develop a culture where people feel appreciated and a peer has gone out of their way to recognize hard work. Feeling grateful for the praise, employees are more likely to reciprocate the action. This "recognition loop" helps sustain positivity, leads to elevated effort, and ultimately, increased performance. Additionally, observers will be motivated to step up their performance in hopes of being recognized themselves.

Similarly, on my Ultimate Frisbee team, peer support and recognition create incredible positivity, increased self-confidence and team collaboration on the field. Each fall, as new players join the squad, high fives fly fast and furiously. Rookies routinely build quick connections and contribute to the team in record-breaking time.

To you it may just be one small action, but that one small action may mean the world to your co-worker.

Workplace Engagement
Employee Recognition
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