We (hopefully) all know how important it is for managers and team leaders to recognize the achievements of their team members. But if we want to build a workplace culture where everyone feels supported and appreciated, that recognition shouldn’t only be top-down.

After all, our relationships with our peers and colleagues are vital to our motivation and sense of satisfaction at work. Their appreciation and praise matter too.

Managers are generally aware of the need to acknowledge the achievements of their direct reports. In contrast, many of us simply don’t think of mentioning our appreciation or admiration of our colleagues’ work.

In this blog post, we’re looking at the importance of recognition in the workplace and how team members can play a valuable role by praising their colleagues. We’ll also look at some of the common obstacles that can prevent people from sharing their appreciation for their peers and discuss some of the ways these can be overcome.


The Importance of Appreciation at Work

Feeling recognized and appreciated at work sounds like a small thing, but it can have a major effect on our levels of motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity.

One of the best-known studies on the importance of appreciation at work is discussed in the Carrot Principle. Authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton analyzed the results of a 10-year study that followed 200,000 people. They found that the most successful managers are those who regularly give constructive praise to their teams.

The study showed that employees are more productive, more engaged, and more likely to stay at the company when they feel that their achievements are recognized and rewarded.

It isn’t only recognition from managers that matters either. Having our work praised and appreciated by customers and clients can also increase our motivation, as research from Workfront showed. Their study revealed that praise from clients is more influential than salary in motivating people to excel at work.

Meanwhile, an often overlooked area is the praise and recognition we receive from our co-workers. These are usually the people we work most closely with and who have the most intimate knowledge of our achievements.

Our peers see the day-to-day work that can often go unnoticed or unrecognized by managers or team leaders. They are uniquely placed to share thoughtful and meaningful appreciation for our hard work.

As well as boosting motivation, fostering an environment where praise and appreciation are the norm has other benefits for our workplaces.

For example, when praise comes from our colleagues as well as from our managers, it strengthens the relationships between team members. In turn, this helps us build trust and work effectively together.

Showing appreciation for others can be great for the person delivering the praise too. There are well-established benefits to developing our sense of gratitude – research consistently shows that gratitude helps us feel happier and makes us more resilient.

And, quite simply, receiving and giving praise makes us happy. The person whose work is recognized feels the warm glow of being appreciated, while the person giving the praise gets the satisfaction of knowing they’ve made someone else feel good.

Overall, fostering a culture of appreciation that travels in all directions around the office hierarchy results in a workplace that feels more positive, collaborative, and cohesive. People feel more connected to their co-workers, more engaged with their work, and have a stronger sense of fulfillment and purpose.


The Barriers to Developing a Culture of Appreciation

Unfortunately, busy workplaces are not necessarily places where recognition and praise are naturally shared. It takes time and intention to build a culture of appreciation in any company, especially if it isn’t something your organization has focused on previously.

Before you can start changing your workplace culture, you need to understand some of the barriers that can prevent people from recognizing one another’s achievements, especially on a peer-to-peer level. Let’s take a look at some of these now, as well as some ways you can overcome them.


1. They don’t see it as their responsibility

It might sound obvious, but one of the simplest reasons that people don’t show appreciation to their colleagues is they don’t think to do it. Likely, it has never crossed their minds to praise their co-workers’ achievements or recognize their hard work.

If employees do think someone has done well, they likely expect managers to share appreciation and praise, instead of considering it their responsibility.

The good news is that this barrier can be one of the easiest to overcome. The more your company encourages colleagues to notice and recognize one another’s contributions, the more naturally it will come to everyone within the organization.


2. They don’t feel appreciated themselves

Another simple truth is that we’re more likely to recognize other people’s work when we feel like our own efforts are seen and appreciated. And the reverse is also true – if your team members are feeling undervalued, they are unlikely to want to praise the work of others.

Again, this issue is relatively simple to solve, although it does require buy-in from managers. Start by making sure those in leadership positions are providing a good example by praising the efforts of those in their teams.

Over time, as team members begin to feel more recognized and appreciated, they’ll be more inclined to make positive comments about others too.


3. There’s too much focus on competition

If you are reading this post, we hope that you already understand how collaborative workplaces can be more effective than ones that focus on competition. However, it is fair to say that this attitude isn’t shared by every company.

Organizations that foster a competitive atmosphere inadvertently discourage their employees from speaking positively about their peers. If team members are ranked against each other and rewarded for their individual efforts, instead of their contributions to the team, they are naturally going to focus on making sure their own work is recognized first.

Overcoming this barrier can take time, as it requires a shift in culture from individual achievement to collaboration and teamwork. Leaders can start by rewarding teams for their work as a whole and praising people for their contributions to the wider team, instead of for their individual efforts.


4. Time is at a premium

Many of us feel like we’re already working at capacity – or even beyond it. When we’re rushed off our feet and our to-do lists stretch for pages, it can be difficult for us to find the mental capacity to notice what our co-workers are up to, never mind stopping to share positive comments and praise.

The trouble is, it is when we’re most under pressure that praise and recognition have the greatest value. Stressed colleagues need to know their efforts are seen and appreciated – by their peers as well as by their managers.

There’s no easy way to give people more time, but what we can do is make it quick and easy to share appreciation for one another. After all, it doesn’t take long to send a quick “great presentation” message to someone over the team chat or to start a team meeting by publicly thanking someone who has helped us out.


5. There are no tools or systems in place to encourage appreciation

Sometimes barriers are about attitude and habit and sometimes they are simply about the processes and systems we work with. If your organization doesn’t already prioritize appreciation, you may just not have the tools in place to allow people to easily share praise and recognize their co-workers’ efforts.

Of course, this shouldn’t be a total barrier – any of us can send a grateful email or share a few words of praise with a colleague. But it can be surprising how much of a difference having the right systems in place can make to your workplace culture.

Managers often have the opportunity to share praise and recognition during one-to-ones and appraisals. So, think about how you can create similar opportunities for peers to focus on appreciating each other.


6. Senior leaders don’t see appreciation as important

Although our focus in this post is on appreciation between peers, a lot depends on how much your organization values praise and recognition – and that will usually be driven by the attitudes of your senior leaders.

While many leaders understand the importance of showing appreciation, this isn’t always the case. Some perceive this as a waste of time or believe that employees will use it as an excuse to rest on their laurels.

If you are a senior leader, then changing the attitudes of others at your level is your responsibility. Sharing research and drawing on the expertise of your HR team can help you make the case. But for true change to take place, leaders must walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

In other words, senior leaders need to have buy-in and demonstrate appreciation themselves for the wider workplace to change.


7. Colleagues lack confidence in sharing praise

Finally, people can also hold back from giving praise and sharing their appreciation with their colleagues simply because they lack confidence.

Perhaps team members worry their comments won’t be well-received, especially if they are speaking to more established colleagues. Perhaps they just don’t know how to compliment someone’s work in a way that sounds authentic and genuine.

Again, modeling the behavior can go a long way to making a difference here. When others see you giving constructive praise and recognizing colleagues’ efforts, they learn how to do the same.

Putting systems in place to help people focus on appreciation can also help. This makes it clear praising others is expected and welcomed, which gives everyone more confidence that their comments will be taken the right way.

Appreciation is critical to a well-functioning team. And not just appreciation from the leader – but from all directions. However, there are some barriers to showing appreciation that need to be overcome. In a future article, we’ll give some next steps to take to go beyond breaking down these barriers so you can start to become more proactive in your approach to creating a culture of appreciation.