4 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement that Actually Work

October 16, 2018 Chava Vietze

During my first job out of college, I referred a former accounting classmate to the company for an open role at the organization. I asked if there was any program in place to refer my contact because I knew that she would be a great fit. She was smart, motivated and enthusiastic about accounting. The HR team advised me to look in the employee handbook for instructions. 

Challenge number 1: I had to hunt down the employee handbook (without an intranet, they’re pretty difficult to locate apparently… they’re paperback or stapled together and filed away in a scary looking closet or overflowing filing cabinet).  I did eventually find a copy and I went through many pages until... bam! I found it. Great, there was a program in place! I’d been working there for a year and had no idea about the program though, until I searched for it. No one had ever told me about its existence or how it worked. 

That was okay though because I figured it out… onto the next step, which was to complete the referral form in the handbook and send it to the hiring manager accompanying her resume. I also advised my contact to apply online – to be “double sure” that her application got to the right people (the handbook did not specifically outline if my candidate needed to formally apply or not). 

Challenge number 2: The hiring manager didn’t follow up with me… I followed up with them. I wanted to know if they’d reached out to my referral. They did! Great news for me. I was one step closer to getting to work with my friend and one step closer to a referral bonus. I was frustrated that no one followed up with me but very happy she was moving through the interviewing process. 

Challenge number 3: My referral was hired! I was excited! Now what? Oh… Do I really have to wait for 6-months before I receive a bonus? That’s a long time… Will anyone remember? Is anyone tracking this information? I felt like it had gone into a black hole. 

There are numerous red flags in my story and the 3-challenges that I experienced are extremely common. 

Not knowing if there is a structured employee referral program in place, where to find out about it, if anyone is actually tracking this stuff, if anyone actually cares… all of those things were unknowns. The thing is, all of those challenges could have been avoided and could have given both me and the candidate a better experience. Employee and candidate experience are superbly important because the way we experience working with the company directly impacts our motivation and our feelings towards the organization as a whole. It’s not just about our immediate job duties – the entire experience matters from the moment we first come in contact with a company. You can bet, if you aren’t giving your employees and candidates a fantastic experience, there is another company out there who will. 

That said, here are 4 ways increase employee engagement that, yes, actually work:

1. Choose a Program Champion

This person should be a leader within the organization, someone well-known and well-respected by your employees. Common champions are the company's Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief People Officer (CPO), Chief Human Resources Office (CHRO), or Head of Talent Acquisition.  

The champion should release a statement of support for the program and explain how the program aligns to the organization’s mission and vision for the present and the future. This step is essential!

Why does this work? 

Employees need to be inspired to care about their work and their company. The best way to do that is to have a leadership team which supports their growth and the company’s growth and explains how they plan to accomplish their vision. When you align your employee referral program to a company champion who believes that a successful program will positively influence the organization’s mission, engaged and happy employees will be motivated to participate and contribute. 

2. Make Things Easy

This is a big one and we bring this one up time and again… 

Remember how I had to do a lot of the heavy lifting to figure out if there was a formal process for referring my friend to a position at my old company? Also,  remember how I had to hunt down an employee handbook and follow up with the hiring manager and still had to wait for 6-months to be paid my referral bonus once she was hired? That is a lot of unnecessary steps… and a lot of confusion and time wasted… and a long time to wait to be rewarded for helping the company. 

You’ve got to make this program simple to understand and simple to follow. How?

  • When you hire a new employee, introduce them to the program during their onboarding

  • Consolidate and centralize. Anything and everything having to do with the employee referral program should be easily accessible to employees, wherever they are. That can be as simple as a landing page with the program details (how does it work, how do you make a referral, what are the rewards, rules, eligibility, etc.) and a place for your employees to make the referral. 

  • That could mean a link to an email to submit their contacts or a fillable form. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are or how much budget you’re working with. You could make it as simple as a Google Form, which is free. That means there is no excuse not to make anything and everything about the employee referral program easy to find and easy to participate in. 

  • Count the clicks. How many clicks does it take for an employee to get to the referral program landing page? If it’s more than 3 steps, figure out how to trim that down. (We once had a client have 9 clicks… they got that down to 4 and participation increased in the weeks following.) Access is everything. 

Why does this work? 

Employees have a day job…literally. You are their employer and you have expectations that are outlined in their job duties and description. Anything outside of that means that the employee is going above and beyond – and that should be noted. Employees don’t have to participate in your program, but when they do, that’s fantastic. The constant feedback that we get from employees at our customers is that they appreciate the simplicity of referring when they’re using our platform. There is no guesswork. When you take any remaining guesswork out of the equation, it’s pretty straightforward for employees to participate and you’ve removed any barriers to entry (where do I bring this resume!? Whose desk does it get dropped on?!) I guarantee that merely centralizing the program should give you at least a bit more engagement… even if everything else remains constant.

3. Cut Down Those Probationary Periods

When you pay an outside agency to recruit for you, how long do you wait to pay them for a successful hire? Usually, it’s no more than 60-90 days… and more commonly it is 30-days after the hire’s start date. So why is it that companies make their employees wait 6-months or even 1-year after a successful referral hire to pay out an employee referral bonus? That is utterly demotivating for an employee and they’ve already done their job. They referred a great candidate to your company and now you’ve hired them. 

At this point, it’s no longer the employee’s job to keep their referred hire at the company, that’s your job. Don’t be one of those companies. Cut down your probationary period to under 90 days. 

Why does this work?  

This is more of a “why not” answer. 

Long probationary periods don’t make sense and you probably don’t use a similar process anywhere else in your company. Think about it. If someone does a stellar job and closes a massive deal, do you make them wait until the client renews to pay them their bonus on it? No, of course not. You pay them their commission and you pat them on the back. 

The same attitude should go toward employee referral bonuses. If your employee’s referral is successfully hired to the company, figure out how long it takes to complete the administrative part of submitting their bonus (approvals, payroll, etc.), add a buffer, and set that as your probationary period.

Their job is done. Now it’s your job to give your new employee an awesome employee experience. Motivate them to do great work and give them a reason to refer their friends because of the simple and straightforward experience you provided to their referrer. 

4. Make it FUN

Have you ever played games at a boardwalk? The ultimate goal is to get the gigantic stuffed frog that has no place in your house, literally… it won’t fit through the door. BUT, you have to have it… why? Because of the recognition you’ll receive from being the one person at the fair who won the biggest prize, meaning you must have had to do something pretty challenging and now you get to drag it around the rest of the night to show off. 

We know that getting the biggest prize on the shelf is a hard feat… but there’s a lot of fun to be had as you work towards that ultimate prize. 

Now apply that mentality to your Employee Referral Program. 

Once per quarter, launch a contest for your employees to remind them and get them excited about the program. 

Why does it work? 

It will give you a push in terms of engagement (temporary increase in referrals, shares, etc.) and builds habits. The more employees see and hear about the referral program, the more likely they are to begin remembering to get involved… and that getting involved could mean winning a $25 Amazon Gift Card, free lunch, or even an Apple Watch… plus, if their referral is hired, they’ll also receive a cash bonus. 

That’s everything folks. We’ve armed you with 4 new ways to revamp your employee referral program. Do we think that you should implement all of them? Of course. But it’s best to take things step-by-step. Review which is going to be easiest to implement first and start from there. 

Need help? Reach out to us to learn more about our professional services here at RolePoint. 

Have you implemented any of our tips? We’d love to hear from you! Tweet us, message us or email us

About the Author

Chava Vietze

Chava Vietze, our Head of Customer Experience, specializes in internal communications, employer branding strategy, and employee engagement and has worked with over 100 enterprise companies cultivating best practices for employee referral programs for over half a decade. She is an advocate for building a strong company culture, which supports its employees' growth, personally and professionally, and is built around its people’s ability to thrive and succeed. On a personal note? Chava has a love for real pizza and bagels (which of course, can only really be found on the east coast where she grew up. She's still searching for the best slice on the west coast). Every so often, she’ll whip up a Margherita pie or a dozen NY-style bagels in her kitchen. She also is an avid traveler (with 2-continents left to conquer) and doesn’t think the weather should ever drop below 68 degrees, which is why the Mediterranean is her favorite place to travel.

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