Staff Referral Rewards – Good Tactics or Desperation?

Its a bit late to be reminiscing relevantly about the brilliant #TruLondon event a couple of weeks ago, and there were many tracks with aspirational and practical relevance to the work we, as modernistic thinking recruiters, operate.

However, I was really intrigued by the track on Recommendation & Referral schemes, led by Michelle Rea and with valuable contribution from Master Burnett, the man with the stats on recommendation practices.

Much of the discussion centred around corporate business, and it’s ability to attract top talent through internal staff referral. From my recruiter angle, I also see that there is a challenge within our industry to continually attract the best talent, and referral ‘schemes’ are utilised often.

So what makes a referral scheme? It seemed that the apparent crux was financial or material reward. Hmm. Ok, the gamification piece within corporate business has some legs if well composed and sustained, but with financial rewards, there was little example of it being a genuinely successful, and this was acknowledged. It was also acknowledged that some companies have offered £thousands in referral opportunities, but there is a reluctance to take it up, and often the paperwork involved is exhaustive.
Recruiters also take the route of financial reward. “£250 if you refer a friend” …so long as x, y and z happen, within the time frame of a, b and c.

Ok, so I have a problem with this. The word that springs to mind is `Desperation`.

The problem I have is perception. People I find, rarely trust financial reward, weird as that sounds. Also the perception created by the offering of financial reward, is one of last resort, nothing else left to try, throw money at it… desperation. If I worked for a corporate firm, and HR were sending through emails offering me rewards to find future staff, I’d be wondering a) what the hell is wrong the recruitment team that exists already, what are they doing? …or b) why can we not attract talent already? We’re a good company… right?
Even moreso with recruitment agencies, where 100% of their efforts should surround the actions of attracting and sourcing talent. Why are they resorting to financial rewards??

I wrote about my feelings on recommendation and referral in my 3 Rs blog last year. In the track at #trulondon, I got in early with my view point on this, but the conversation still drifted back into monetary schemes.


My viewpoint is that recommendation and referral is a natural human action. We do it all the time, suggestions of restaurants, bars, clothes, best routes of travel, etc. It is a human condition to automatically want to help others. The irony was Master’s study confirmed this, that some 80% of referral activity is triggered by plain old good nature – yet the conversation still recoiled into financial and materials reward strategy, with the conclusion continually reverting back to it’s lack of success. I chipped in with the third R… “Reputation” – which brought some nods, some silence – and then a return to the rewards strategy doom discussion. 

But hold on?! WHAT ABOUT REPUTATION???!  

What about good old `being an employer of choice`? What about creating the impression of a ‘great place to work’? What about the idea of creating employee advocation by just being a great place to work, supporting staff, entertaining the staff, rewarding great performance, acknowledging great contribution, doing special things that make employees proud – let alone the outside world. 

Employees are indeed the best form of recommendation and referral – they already work there – but if they think you are a great company, they will do it anyway. If you are not a great company, cutting corners, underpaying, under-rewarding, over-working, ignoring stars, not paying bills, restraining creativity, then your employees won’t refer people, whether you pay them £250, £1000, or a weekend in Barcelona! Those employees secretly want to leave, so they’re not going invite their friends, or friends of friends in! 


Companies can also create a fantastic external reputation through online and social media communications and presence. Companies should be creating interesting videos on YouTube (see Content & Motion), allowing key staff to communicate through twitter, have an engaging Facebook page with clear employment input (see Bill Boorman’s Hard Rock Cafe example), creating events and public accessibility. Look like a company who are great to work for, and demonstrate employee contentment and excitement publicly – and everywhere this presence exists, make sure there is a ‘work for us’ button – maybe with links to a jobs page, which SHOULD LOOK INTERESTING!! Don’t make your jobs page a series of Black & White type outs, make it interesting. 

Recruitment is not about desperation, mild bribery and twisting people’s financial consciousness. It’s about being a great company, with great brand, with great employee experience, and great presence. Looking fantastic, and being a place people just want to work within the target group of relevant professionals – whether industry-wise or geographically. 

I welcome your thoughts. 


3 thoughts on “Staff Referral Rewards – Good Tactics or Desperation?

  1. interesting thoughts Steve @CloudNineRec, I do wonder if some people would rather delineate their work/social life on social networks so they can continue to discreetly (somewhat misguidely) express their work frustrations with their close friends formed from outside of work. You ever worked at a call centre for example and noted the backchat between agents on a monday morning about their weekend antics. Do they and their team leaders really want that conversation in the public domain? Is everyone equally proud of their employer and viceversa? On the flipside, I would dearly like to know the experiences of any employer who decided to remove the firewall shackles and allow employees a free reign of the internet at work: did that lead to a perceived benefit and moral boost among employees, productivity and employee referral?

  2. Hi Paul – I think you are right about the delineation of personal and work spaces. My observation was more about how employers promote themselves, as well as through their social profiles. I wouldn’t think for a minute that employees would want to refer people through Facebook, for sure.
    But certainly their employers can be highly productive, creative, fun and essential social media marketing existence, and and create genuinely good vibes towards their business from an `employer of choice` perspective. And this doesn’t just apply to corporates.
    I think the employee moral boost comes from great employee experience. Even if you have the worst job in the world, you can have the best employer.

  3. i think it would be great to have employees proudly boast about their employer, i can’t rationally see why not especially in ftse100 brands. The vast majority of employees may not have such layered presence and prolific output on their social networks as the freelancing mediaholics and ardent SM users.

    Perhaps there is merit for an employer to create an recruitment App for employees to add to their Facebook pages if they so wish which can act as a badge boast and work referral widget equally. Or maybe a first step in Facebook marketing for organisation is to use it to target employees?

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