Employee Referral Programs: Successful Implementation of Employee Referral Schemes

The concept of "Employee Referral Programs" is a tried and true method in recruitment and continues to be an important tool. Good recommendations are valuable and often lead to the quick filling of open positions with qualified employees. In this article, we explain how employee referrals work, their advantages and disadvantages, and what rewards make sense in an employee referral program.

What is an Employee Referral Program?

An employee referral program is a fixed part of recruitment where existing employees recommend new candidates. It doesn't matter if the employee knows the candidate personally or only casually through social networks.

These programs are not time-bound. Companies set the framework and inform their employees about the goals, benefits, and rewards. Often, HR software is used to regularly inform employees about open positions. Alternatively, job postings can also be distributed via email or newsletter. If recommended candidates apply successfully and are hired, the referring employee receives a reward.

Success Factors of an Employee Referral Program

A successful program is based on voluntariness. Employees' motivation should not rely solely on the reward but on their commitment and satisfaction with the company. A strong employer brand is therefore essential.

Advantages of Employee Referrals

Higher Credibility: Employees are more credible than headhunters or recruiters because they know the company well and can provide realistic insights.

More Transparency: Recommended candidates receive all important information in advance and can get a realistic picture of the company, reducing onboarding time and preventing false expectations.

Employee Motivation: Employees feel valued and have the feeling that they can actively shape the working environment, which increases their motivation.

Efficiency and Time Savings: Only suitable candidates are recommended, allowing recruiters to focus on promising applicants.

Cost-Effectiveness: Employee referral programs are cheaper than other recruiting channels. Costs are often limited to the rewards and possibly software.

High Employee Retention: Referred employees tend to stay longer in the company and show better performance.

Strengthening Employer Branding: Recommending employees are the best ambassadors for a company as they express their satisfaction externally.

Increased Team Spirit: Referring employees often feel responsible for the new colleagues and support them during onboarding, fostering team spirit.

Risks of Employee Referrals

Disappointment for Referring Employees: Rejected recommendations can lead to frustration.

Less Diversity: Recommendations from one's social circle can lead to a less diverse workforce.

Mixing of Professional and Personal Relationships: Close friends or relatives working together can cause conflicts in the workplace.

Wrong Motivation by Rewards: High rewards can lead to neglecting the suitability of candidates.

Nepotism: Companies can get a reputation for hiring based on relationships, damaging employer branding.

Designing Rewards in Employee Referral Programs

To make an employee referral program attractive, rewards should be appealing and lucrative. There are various types of rewards:

Monetary Rewards: These include one-time payments, salary increases, or salary-based amounts.

Non-Monetary Rewards: These include experience trips, wellness vouchers, additional vacation days, flexible company budgets, coverage of training costs, or more say in company decisions.

Non-monetary rewards are often more motivating than financial rewards as they create lasting memories. An employee who goes on a safari or wellness vacation will speak positively about it for a long time.

Monitoring and Measuring the Success of Employee Referral Programs

The success and efficiency of employee referral programs can be measured using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Important metrics include:

Success Rate: Ratio of recommended to actually hired candidates.

Turnover Rate: Ratio of hires to resignations, considering the timing.

Goal Achievement: Number of successful recommendations, length of company affiliation of those recruited, strengthening of the employer brand.

Implementing Employee Referral Programs

For successful implementation, companies should follow these steps:

Set Focus: Define which positions should be filled through recommendations. Clearly formulate the job posting and requirements.

Define Rewards: Set incentives that are neither too high nor too low. Non-monetary rewards are often more effective than financial incentives.

Implementation and Communication: A digital system for managing referrals is almost always worth it. Employees should be comprehensively informed about the program and motivated. Participation should always be voluntary.

Control Results: Ongoing monitoring of KPIs and adjustment of the program if necessary. Gather feedback from employees and continuously improve the program.

Detailed Consideration of the Advantages of Employee Referrals

Higher Credibility

Own employees are more credible than external headhunters or recruiters because they know the company from the inside. They can provide realistic insights into everyday work and know exactly what new employees can expect. This personal recommendation is often more convincing and authentic, increasing the chances of a successful hire. Another advantage is that employees, through their own experience, know which candidates could fit well into the team and which would not.

More Transparency

Recommended candidates receive comprehensive information about the company, the open position, and the corporate culture from the referring employee before applying. This means the candidate can get a realistic picture and clarify all open questions in advance. This avoids misunderstandings and false expectations. This transparency shortens the onboarding time and reduces the risk of new employees leaving the company shortly after being hired.

Motivation of Employees

Employee referral programs strengthen the sense of appreciation among employees. They have the opportunity to actively contribute to the shaping of their working environment by recommending new colleagues. This increases motivation and engagement because employees see that their opinion and effort are valued. It also strengthens team cohesion when employees feel they can co-determine who works in their environment.

Efficiency and Time Savings

Through employee referrals, only candidates who are considered a good fit for the company by the employees are recommended. This reduces the number of unsuitable applications and allows recruiters to focus on promising candidates. The recruitment process becomes more efficient and time-saving as less time is spent on pre-selection and screening of unsuitable applications.


Compared to other recruiting methods, employee referral programs are very cost-effective. The costs are often limited to the rewards for the recommendations and possibly the implementation of appropriate software. In contrast, job postings on job boards, headhunter services, or other recruiting measures can be very expensive. Moreover, the need for expensive marketing measures is eliminated as the recommendations are made by the employees themselves.

High Employee Retention

Studies show that employees hired through referrals are often more satisfied and stay longer with the company. This is because they have already received realistic insights into the company before being hired and know better what to expect. These employees often develop a stronger bond with the company and are more motivated because they already feel part of the team through the referral. High employee retention reduces turnover and the associated costs of re-hiring and training.

Strengthening Employer Branding

An employee referral program significantly strengthens employer branding. Employees who recommend their company contribute to the positive perception of the employer. When employees publicly praise and recommend their company, it is perceived as a strong sign of a good working atmosphere and corporate culture. This can position the company as an attractive employer and attract new talent.

Increased Team Spirit

When employees recommend new colleagues, they often feel responsible for their integration and success in the company. This can strengthen team spirit as the referring employees actively participate in the onboarding process and ensure that the new colleagues feel comfortable. A strong team spirit and good camaraderie in the company are important factors for employee satisfaction and productivity.

Detailed Consideration of the Risks of Employee Referrals

Disappointment for Referring Employees

A potential challenge in employee referral programs is the possible disappointment of referring employees when their recommendations are rejected. This can be especially problematic if several recommendations are rejected in a row. It is important that companies communicate transparently why a recommendation was not accepted to avoid misunderstandings and frustration. Companies should also support their employees in making high-quality recommendations.

Less Diversity

A disadvantage of employee referral programs can be that they lead to less diversity in the company. Since employees often recommend people from their social circle who have similar backgrounds and characteristics, this can limit diversity in the company. Less diversity can negatively impact the company's innovation and creativity. It is therefore important that companies take measures to promote diversity despite employee referrals.

Mixing of Professional and Personal Relationships

Recommendations from close friends or family members can lead to a mixing of professional and personal relationships. This can cause conflicts and tensions in the workplace, especially if the collaboration does not go as expected. Companies should set clear guidelines for recommending close acquaintances and relatives to avoid potential problems.

Wrong Motivation by Rewards

High rewards can lead to employees recommending candidates solely for the reward, without adequately considering the suitability of the candidates. This can lead to unsuitable candidates being recommended, affecting the success of the program. Companies should ensure that the rewards are appropriate and that employees are motivated to recommend qualified and suitable candidates.


Another risk of employee referral programs is the perception of nepotism. If it seems that people are hired solely because of relationships, it can undermine trust in the fairness of the recruitment process. This can negatively impact employer branding and affect employee morale. Companies should ensure that all hiring decisions are made transparently and based on clear criteria.

Designing Rewards in Employee Referral Programs

Rewards are an important part of a successful employee referral program. They provide an incentive for employees to actively seek new talent and make recommendations. There are various types of rewards that companies can offer:

Monetary Rewards

  • One-Time Payments: A common form of reward is a fixed one-time payment that the referring employee receives once the recommended person is successfully hired and has passed a certain probationary period.
  • Salary Increases: Another option is a salary increase for the employee who made the recommendation. This can be a permanent salary increase or a one-time bonus payment.
  • Salary-Based Amounts: Some companies offer rewards based on the salary of the newly hired person. This can be a fixed percentage of the annual salary or a specific amount.

Non-Monetary Rewards

Non-monetary rewards are often just as attractive as financial incentives as they create personal and emotional value. Here are some examples:

  • Experience Trips: A special experience trip can be an attractive reward that remains memorable. This could be an adventure vacation, a city trip, or a wellness retreat.
  • Wellness Vouchers: Vouchers for wellness treatments, spa stays, or gym memberships are also popular rewards.
  • Additional Vacation Days: Additional days off are a coveted reward that allows employees more leisure and relaxation.
  • Flexible Company Budget: A flexible budget that employees can use for various purposes, such as training, work equipment, or personal projects.
  • Coverage of Training Costs: Covering the costs of professional training and courses is a valuable investment in employees' development.
  • More Influence on Company Decisions: Additional responsibilities or more influence on company decisions can also be an attractive reward.

Monitoring and Measuring the Success of Employee Referral Programs

To measure the success of an employee referral program, various Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are helpful. These metrics provide insight into how effective the program is and where there is room for improvement.

Success Rate

An important metric is the success rate of the program. This is calculated by dividing the number of actually hired candidates by the number of recommended candidates. A high success rate indicates that the recommendations are of high quality and fit well with the company.

Turnover Rate

The turnover rate of employees hired through the program is also an important indicator. This involves looking at the number of resignations within a certain period after hiring. A low turnover rate indicates that the hired candidates are satisfied and well-integrated into the company.

Goal Achievement

Companies should define clear goals for their employee referral program. These can, for example, consist of receiving a certain number of recommendations per year, reducing turnover, or strengthening the employer brand. Goal achievement can be monitored through regular review and adjustment of measures.

Implementing Employee Referral Programs

Successful implementation of an employee referral program requires careful planning and clear communication. Here are the key steps:

Set Focus

First, it must be defined for which positions the program should be used. Not all positions are equally suitable for recommendations. Companies should clearly define the requirements and qualifications for the positions to be filled and communicate this information clearly.

Define Rewards

Rewards should be attractive but not excessively high to avoid wrong motivations. Non-monetary rewards are often more effective than financial incentives as they take personal preferences into account and create lasting memories. A wide range of lucrative non-monetary rewards and emotional incentives increases employees' motivation to make recommendations.

Implementation and Communication

Implementing a digital system for managing the program can significantly simplify the process. Such systems offer functions for managing and tracking recommendations, communicating open positions, and providing feedback. Companies should comprehensively inform their employees about the program and clearly communicate its benefits. It is important that participation is voluntary.

Control Results

Continuous monitoring of program results is essential. Companies should regularly review whether the set goals are being achieved and make adjustments if necessary. Feedback from employees is valuable for continuously improving the program and adapting it to the workforce's needs.


Employee referral programs are a cost-effective and effective tool in recruitment. They increase credibility, promote employee motivation, and strengthen employer branding. It is important that the program is voluntary and well thought out, with attractive rewards and continuous monitoring. This way, companies can benefit from the advantages of such a program in the long term and successfully expand their workforce.

additional FAQ to the Guide on Employer Referral Programs:

What does "employee referral program" mean?

An "employee referral program" means that current employees can recommend potential new hires for their company. These recommendations are often based on the employees' personal or professional networks and can be a valuable source of qualified candidates for the company. Employees who successfully refer new hires often receive a bonus or other rewards.

How can one recruit new employees?

There are various methods to recruit new employees:

  1. Job Boards and Career Pages: Posting job ads on online job boards and the company's own website.
  2. Social Media: Utilizing platforms like LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook, or Twitter to share job openings and actively search for candidates.
  3. Employee Referral Programs: Offering incentives for current employees to recommend new talents.
  4. Career Fairs and Networking Events: Participating in job fairs and other events to directly interact with potential candidates.
  5. Recruitment Agencies and Headhunters: Collaborating with specialized agencies that assist in the search and selection of candidates.

How can one attract new employees?

To attract new employees, the following strategies are helpful:

  1. Attractive Job Ads: Clear and appealing job descriptions that highlight the benefits and career opportunities within the company.
  2. Employer Branding: Building a strong employer brand through positive online reviews, employee testimonials, and an attractive company culture.
  3. Career Opportunities and Training: Offering development opportunities and training that make the company attractive to potential employees.
  4. Competitive Compensation and Benefits: Providing competitive salaries and additional benefits like flexible working hours, remote work options, health care, and more.
  5. Efficient and Transparent Recruitment Process: A smooth and quick recruitment process that keeps candidates informed about the status of their application.

Is an employee referral program subject to co-determination?

Whether an employee referral program is subject to co-determination depends on the specific circumstances and applicable labor laws. In many cases, it is advisable to involve the works council or employee representatives in the planning and implementation of such a program. This can ensure that the interests of the employees are considered and that the program is designed transparently and fairly. It is recommended to seek legal advice to clarify the exact requirements and obligations.

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