Why Peer Relationships Matter at Work

by Derek Irvine

Diagram of interconnected colleaguesRecognize This! – Peers see and understand more of their colleagues’ contributions, enabling them to offer more support.

Work/life balance is a myth. I could say that in today’s hyper-connected world, work comes home with us far more easily than it did 20 or even 10 years ago. And that would be true. But it’s no less true that our “life” also comes to work with us. Worries about our sick children, concern over a fight with a spouse the night before, fear over making ends meet on a tight budget – all can color how we approach our work and how we treat our colleagues.

At best, we can hope for work/life blending in which we focus on letting the best of both worlds influence each other. I doubt anyone reading this post will argue that that their lives are not very busy. But how do we define that busy-ness? In many ways, I enjoy my work colleagues as much as I do my outside-of-work friends. I have deep, personal relationships with them.

That’s the reality of our lives today. We tend to develop relationships with the people we are in contact with the most. For many of us, we spend more time at work and with work colleagues than we do even with family.

Strengthening and reaffirming those relationships with peers/colleagues at work just makes sense:

  1. Peers see more – Those with whom we work closely naturally have a better window into what we do, ways we contribute, and how we behave.
  2. Peers understand more – Because they are often in similar roles, peers understand the context and the many variables of our working situation. They can more easily appreciate the complexity of our day-to-day.
  3. Peers support more – Our peers are in the same trenches we are. They are working most closely with us to deliver the near-terms goals. They are the ones that most likely know how our kids did at the weekend sports tournament, or how our ill parent is recovering. Peers become a more natural support mechanism at work.

Clearly, our peers are fundamental to how we get the work done. Yet all too often, peers and their observations are ignored or lessened in an employee recognition experience. Managers are given the opportunity to share their appreciation, which is valuable and very important, too, of course. But let’s not ignore both the power of peers and their more direct insight into their colleagues’ contributions and achievements.

One hindrance to peer recognition is manager perception that recognition is one of the few levers they have. At our annual company kickoff event this week, a customer of ours shared the fallacy in this thinking. When they opened peer recognition to all employees to nominate others for recognition and rewards, they results showed 70% of recognition moments came from peers, with only 30% of the budget for recognition and rewards used on those moments. Managers still retained their lever, but empowered all members of their team to notice and appreciate the good happening around them every day.

With whom do you have the deepest relationships at work? How do you recognize and appreciate peers to foster and strengthen those relationships?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

2 Responses

  1. Janice L. Campbell, PhD says:

    An excellent article that I intend to share with my work colleagues. I especially appreciate your comment:
    “At best, we can hope for work/life blending in which we focus on letting the best of both worlds influence each other.” In workplace wellness programming, we strive for worklife balance; I hadn’t thought of it from this perspective before. Well done!

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