Winter 2013: Giving Virtual Pats on the Back

By Dave Zielinski

Peer-to-peer recognition programs have gained favor in a poor economy where pay increases remain fairly low. More employers appear to be using social media-like technologies to increase interest and participation in these programs.

In a March 2012 study by the St. Louis-based Incentive Research Foundation of 205 incentive providers, suppliers to the incentive industry and corporate incentive travel buyers, 74 percent of respondents said they offered their customers social media tools or techniques to enhance their incentive programs.

Making It Work

How do you convince busy employees of the value of taking time out of hectic workdays to recognize peers? Online platforms with social media elements can help trigger participation, say advocates of these tools. Furthermore, employees comfortable with Twitter or Facebook often welcome the chance to recognize peers on public walls.

To appeal to workers and spark participation, Calgary, Alberta, Canada-based International Fitness began using a Facebook-like application that allows its 1,100 employees to recognize peers by posting messages to a public "team wall" as well as through private e-mails.

This software-as-a-service platform from vendor Kudos, also based in Calgary, enables employees to acknowledge peers for daily good works with points and to post positive comments to the wall. Each employee receives an annual bank of 300 Kudos points to award to co-workers. Once awarded, these points may be traded for prizes such as paid time off, gas cards or restaurant gift certificates. "People can give out points in five- to 50-point increments, depending on their feelings about a particular behavior," says Scott Wildeman, vice president of fitness services at International Fitness.

A Kudos subscription starts at $49 plus $1 per user per month, in addition to any setup or customization fees. Expenses for prizes given in return for accumulated points are handled separately.

At Leo Pharma Inc. in Parsippany, N.J., Vice President of Human Resources Regina Donohue uses software with social media components called “Give a Wow” from TerryBerry of Grand Rapids, Mich., to drive peer-to-peer recognition. Donohue’s staff tailored the platform to fit the culture, dubbing its overall recognition program “Give a Roar” because the company logo is a lion.

The peer-to-peer recognition component of the program, called “Paw-to-Paw,” is designed to reward employees who demonstrate core values, Donohue says. A Facebook-like wall acts as a virtual bulletin board where employees applaud one another for exemplifying values. HR staff members reserve the right to edit or delete inappropriate comments—yet they haven’t had to do so thus far.

A separate component called “Lion,” which allows managers to award employees with spot bonuses of $50, receives more oversight, Donohue says.

“We do monitor that program more closely and approve the awards, along with the manager of the individual receiving the award, to make sure the right things are being recognized,” Donohue says. That auditing provides protection from an employment law perspective, she says, by ensuring that employees who might have employee relations issues or performance problems aren’t being rewarded.

In “Paw-to-Paw,” recognized employees receive e-mail notification, and the award denotes the company values the individual demonstrated, along with a narrative about why they were recognized.

Recipients also receive a hard-copy certificate. More than 276 “Paw-to-Paw” awards have been given this year; in a recent employee survey, 70 percent of respondents said they visit the recognition site at least once a month.

With about three-quarters of Leo Pharma’s 240 U.S.-based employees working from dispersed locations, the platform proves to be an advantage, Donohue says.

Skytron, a medical equipment business in Grand Rapids, Mich., implemented the “Give a Wow” platform about two years ago, after finding administration of preceding recognition programs onerous, says Dave Straw, Skytron’s vice president of operations. The company also includes its independent distributors in the recognition program.

One software feature that has proved popular is the “Applaud” function, Straw says. “When someone gets nominated by a peer, other people can come onto the site and ‘applaud,’ ” he says.

“Employees are just two clicks away from being able to create a nomination for a peer.”

Skytron’s annual cost for the “Give a Wow” platform, which covers 110 employees, is $5,000 to $6,000, along with a yearly maintenance charge of about $500.

Whether they employ social media technologies or not, well-designed peer-to-peer recognition plans can go a long way to boost employee morale, foster a spirit of camaraderie and create more engaged workers.

Zielinski is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis.


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