Employee Referral Rewards: Top 3 alternatives to cash

Employee Referral Rewards: Top 3 alternatives to cash

Money is a limited motivator when it comes to the employee referral program. It is a nice way to say ‘thank you’ to the employee. But, it’s not the foundation on which employee referral programs are built. A lot of organisations find this surprising.


Google got better at referrals but the financial incentives had nothing to do with it,’’ cites Google’s hiring chief Laszlo Bock in his book Work Rules: Insights from inside Google. He goes on to say when Google doubled its referral bonus from $2000 to $4000, it didn’t help at all. People made referrals because they liked working at the company, not because they were hunting bonuses.


Similarly, when GoDaddy cut the size of its referral bonus by two-thirds from $3,000 to $1,000 and it saw an increase in the number of employee referrals.

Disbursing referral bonus as cash loses its incentive value. ‘The desire to help a friend’, is the number one motivator in an employee referral program.


Referral Alternatives to cash


Leveraging intrinsic motivators like recognition, competition and cause can help you drive a strong and vibrant referral program.


1) Appreciation, social recognition, and praise


Recognition is one of the most underutilised facets of an employee referral program. Many organisations conduct all-hands meetings, project-based reviews, or department-based reviews.


Use these arenas to feature the employee, who brought in quality talent. Let them be seen as a valuable contributor during such occasions.




Alternatively, the CEO or a business leader can send personal appreciative notes for the best-referring employee highlighting the impact and their alignment towards organizational goals. Such recognitions act as a very strong motivator making it aspirational for everyone in the organisation.


2) Leveraging competition


Who doesn’t love a competition? Especially, when it’s at your workplace. An organisation contains several types of individuals.



Running a quick competition amongst your employees (teams or individuals) pumps the adrenalin up in your referral program. Recognising the winners with unique experiential rewards motivates employees to participate in the referral program.


One of our clients, Mphasis, married CSR and IPL with their referral programs making it not just a huge success but also ended up winning a gold medal in the prestigious Brandon Hall Group HCM excellence award.


Competition is a wonderful motivator that makes the employee referral program more fun and time-bound. It gives you the ability to fire up participation for hard to fill positions.


3) Cause or a Donation - Giving what an employee wants


Attaching a cause to your employee referral programs have a greater impact. Western cultures marry a lot of cause towards their referral programs like running a marathon or donating to a charity or nonprofits.


Leveraging cause in an employee referral program is an easy way to get people connected to a higher order focus. You can simply marry the referral program to your CSR foundation and its budget. The employee gets the satisfaction of contributing to a developmental activity.



You can even bring in diversity hiring as Epsilon did. They sponsored the education of a girl child for every woman candidate hired.


Wrap up


Employee referrals need not always run on money. It can target many intrinsic factors to bring great perspective and vibrancy to the program. If you have done any such campaigns that use non-monetary motivators, please do let us know. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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