Stop what you’re doing. Look around your office and ask yourself how people are interacting with each other. Are employees sitting alone in their cubicles? Is the office as quiet as a library? Or are they intermingling, making each other feel appreciated, and diligently working together to exchange ideas. If you’ve answered this question, your next one might be: is one type of work environment better than the other, and how important is peer-to-peer appreciation?

Employees who have positive interactions with each other are also more likely to feel happy at work.

What matters most is whether or not your workplace is — quite simply — a happy place to work, and peer-to-peer appreciation is extremely important to cultivating this environment. Two factors typically determine this:

  1. Management’s desire to foster an environment that encourages peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration
  2. Employees’ willingness to lift others up and feel good about themselves and their work. These types of employees are called “brand champions,” and we’ll discuss them later.

Alexander Kjerfulf, an international author and speaker spoke to Jacquelyn Smith, a Forbes contributing writer, and the two discussed why it’s critical for employees to socialize with one another. He explained that it helps people professionally advance themselves and build character.

“Socializing with your co-workers is essential for your career,” said Kjerfulf. “If you’re not able to relate to your co-workers as human beings and build positive relationships, your career will suffer. Socializing and getting to know them as people will help you to communicate better, trust each other more and work better together.”

Kjerfulf also noted that employees who have positive interactions with each other are also more likely to feel happy at work.

“Employees who have positive workplace relationships are happier at work (in fact, good workplace relationships are one of the most important sources of workplace happiness) and we know that people who are happy at work are more productive, more creative and more successful overall,” Kjerfulf said.

To better understand peer-to-peer appreciation, let’s discuss workplace culture and social norms in more detail.

How culture and social norms play a role in the workplace

Next time you’re walking down a busy city street, look around you. You’ll likely notice the numerous ways people interact with each other. Alan Page Fiske of the University of Pennsylvania wrote about different types of social relationships in his scholarly paper, “The Four Elementary Forms of Sociality: Framework for a Unified Theory of Social Relations.”

Fiske’s four relationship types include communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching and market pricing. He also described a fifth called social and null relationships.

Healthy workplaces encourage employees to act more as neighbors than strangers or family.

This model, Fiske states, “postulates that people are oriented to relationships as such, that people generally want to relate to each other, feel committed to the basic types of relationships, regard themselves as obligated to abide by them, and impose them on other people (including third parties).”

In an article on Harvard Business Review, Art Markmann, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, broke Fiske’s social model down into three easy-to-understand social pillars that are specifically found in the workplace: strangers, family and neighbors.

He noted that healthy workplaces encourage employees to act more as neighbors — or in Fiske’s model, in an egalitarian environment — than strangers or family. As neighbors, co-workers provide for each other, which helps them find common ground so they can accomplish objectives for the greater good of their company.

Unlike strangers (social and null relationships) or family (communal sharing), neighbors go the extra mile to support each other. In turn, they feel happier and more appreciated.

There are several ways companies can cultivate peer-to-peer appreciation. Let’s discuss!

How employees can foster positive working relationships

To improve workplace relationships, companies should sponsor:

  1. Increased peer-to-peer appreciation opportunities
  2. The development of brand ambassadors

1. Increasing training

Many organizations provide their employees with training and education opportunities that allow them to progress professionally and build personal relationships, noted Markmann.

One way to do this is to sponsor weekly peer-to-peer presentations where any employee can give a presentation to interested parties. HR could support this endeavor by promoting it on its intranet and reaching out to fill a schedule of presenters.

Employees running these workshops can not only teach their colleagues new ideas and concepts, but they can also allow them time to interact with each other. Employees are more likely to feel appreciated for their work if they have the opportunity to interact with others.

2. Developing brand ambassadors

Brand champions have a direct impact on a company’s culture because they help position the business in a positive light. They’re thrilled in their role and the overall environment, and they’re enthusiastic about the idea of helping others find the same kind of excitement in their jobs.

HR’s goal should be to make every employee a brand champion. At this point, companies will likely see more employee engagement, improved productivity and increased happiness.

Workplaces are always evolving, but the one constant should be how employees interact. Coworkers make their peers feel great by encouraging one another to improve professionally, offering and returning favors and helping each other accomplish goals.