Business

Peer-to-peer rewards: ‘Why I tip my colleagues at work’

Woman in woods Image copyright Becky Thornton
Image caption Becky Thornton

"We normally tip around £2, but if someone does something really good, then they might get a fiver. It's a really tangible way of saying, 'You know what, I really liked that.'"

Becky Thornton is one of a growing number of UK workers whose bosses have introduced "peer-to-peer micro-bonuses" - or what some people might view as tips.

There's been a sharp increase in schemes where co-workers are given the power and a budget to tip each other small amounts of money for good work.

Two of the main providers of these schemes told BBC Radio 5 Live's Wake Up To Money that they had seen a big rise in the number of UK businesses signing up to give their staff the power to hand out small cash rewards.

US-based firm Bonusly says it has seen a 75% increase in UK customers in the last 12 months alone, meaning there are now 250 UK-based firms using its scheme to reward more than 10,000 employees.

And Reward Gateway told Radio 5 live it had seen a 100% increase in the number of UK businesses using its services to allow staff to give small amounts of cash to their colleagues.

"It's quite a nice way of giving feedback, it feels like a positive way to show you appreciate someone's work. I save up my tips and withdraw them when I've got over £100, then I treat myself," says Becky.

'It works as a nudge'

Raphael Crawford-Marks, one of Bonusly's co-founders, says the idea is "ensuring that employees receive timely and meaningful recognition".

He doesn't like to think of it as "tipping", which he says has a different connotation in the US, where tips form a sizable chunk of some workers' pay.

"The monetary aspect of it exists to help employees form good habits about giving recognition to each other," he says.

"When every employee has a pot of money and all they can do with it is give it out to their colleagues, then that works as a nudge to encourage them to give it out."

But not everyone who has experienced it is a fan. Victoria Davies used to work at a company that managed bonuses this way and found it hard.

"If you're the type of person who normally goes above and beyond, you don't want to be seen to be doing that just to get tips," she says.

"It's open to abuse, isn't it? As someone who went through popularity contests at school, it was quite weird to think, 'Oh, do I need to ingratiate myself with people to be part of this community of tip-giving?'

"It was one extra level of stress that I didn't need."

'A bit of a contest'

The amount of money and the way the rewards work varies from employer to employer. Some even display charts showing who has received the most from their colleagues.

Becky's employer gives staff £15 a month to assign to their colleagues, which is taken back if it is not used in time. Victoria was given a pot of £100 a year to dish out as and when she chose.

Jurgen Appelo, founder of Agility Scales and author of several books on management, introduced the scheme for his employees who award one another points. The value of those points is determined by the profit the company has made each month.

He acknowledges there is a risk that this scheme becomes a popularity contest: "You cannot prevent this becoming a bit of a contest, but we already have a contest in place with the traditional system and that is sucking up to the boss.

"It is a popularity contest of who is most popular with the boss and that has proven to be a very bad system.

"So I am just replacing that part with the crowd, so people see they are liked, appreciated, valued by [their] colleagues. We did the research on our own team, we know who the introverts and the extroverts are, we try to check if it correlates with the points they get and it doesn't."

Instant feedback

Julie Wacker, business psychologist at workplace wellness consultancy Robertson Cooper, says businesses must be careful of unintended consequences.

"I can see how this could have a huge impact and be fun. But if it's not set around a work culture with good values in place, it could end up being cliquey, it could be quite negative," he says.

"The intention is no doubt good, it's to motivate people and give instant feedback. It means you're not reliant on a manager for recognition, which could release people from the negative impact of bad managers. But there are risks it's just a popularity contest."

Whatever the reasons behind it and whether you love it or hate it, the professional association for people in HR, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, has told the BBC it has seen an increase in members talking about these schemes.

There's a good chance this very American import could soon be coming to a workplace near you. Best start smiling at those colleagues.

You can hear more about this story on the Wake Up To Money podcast

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