How to implement a frontline employee referral program

Posted on: April 5, 2024By: Patrick Icasas

Many frontline organizations are looking for ways to replace workers as quickly as possible—without wasting time and money on a revolving door of bad hires. Employee referrals can be an effective solution to this thorny issue. With the right program and tools in place, you can easily scale referrals up to be a core part of your organization’s frontline recruitment strategy. 

What are employee referrals?

An employee referral program encourages its staff to recommend qualified job candidates to open roles at the company. Sometimes paired with a reward program, it’s a way for organizations to source vetted job seekers and fast-track them through the hiring process. 

Referral candidates are often treated differently from regular candidates. The referred candidate’s resume may be flagged or fast-tracked through an applicant tracking system, for example, or their resume may bypass any formal application system and go straight to the hiring manager. 

But why would referrals get so much special treatment? Are they really so valuable a catch?

In a word, yes.

Why employee referrals are important

Building out an employee referral program is a great way for frontline organizations to fast-track hiring. Here are three reasons why:

1. Referred candidates get hired faster

Because of the ongoing wave of resignations, it’s critical for frontline organizations to hire fast in order to keep locations adequately staffed. Employee referrals are a great way to speed that process up. According to Jobvite, the average application-to-hire time for career sites and job boards is 45 days and 39 days, respectively. By comparison, referred candidates move through the process up to 55% faster, taking only 29 days from application to hire.

2. Referred employees stay longer

In a frontline environment, every role is vital to the location’s operations. You need team members who will stick around for the long haul. Employee referrals can fill that need. Jobvite found that 46% of referred hires stay with an employer for three years or more, compared to only 14% of hires sourced from job boards.

3. Employee referral programs are a morale booster

One hidden benefit of an employee referral program is that it positively affects existing frontline staff. Any kind of reward is going to positively impact employee engagement, which is something to consider when building out your program. But beyond that, employee referrals help existing employees to feel like their voice is heard, and they’ve made a positive contribution to the hiring process. 

Referrals also boost morale in a more indirect way. For an employee referral program to work effectively, you need to turn your existing staff into brand advocates. They need to be well-versed in your brand purpose, vision, employee perks…the list goes on. And boosting knowledge retention of this vital information has the added bonus of boosting employee morale and engagement. 

How to build a frontline employee referral program

Simply asking employees to find referrals isn’t going to get you very many results, especially if you have a large frontline force to fill out. You’re going to need to put together a formal referral program. 

Creating a frontline employee referral program is a bit different than a deskbound program, mostly because of the scale of workforce and speed of hires. Here are three things to keep in mind when starting to build out your program. 

1. Start with determining goals and outcomes

Before you dive too far into employee referrals, you first have to establish why one is needed in the first place. What long-term and short-term goals will the referral program fulfill? Are you hoping to hire faster? Improve the quality of hires? Fine-tuning these goals will help drive your program in the right direction. 

2. Choose how you’ll entice employees to refer

Incentives are a critical component of an employee referral program. These could be anything from a financial bonus to vacation days, gift certificates, or swag. If these aren’t possible, employee recognition is another incentive to consider. Acknowledging staff that go out of their way to bring in new talent might be enough to entice others to engage in your referral program. 

3. Map out your tools and policies

Now that you’ve established what you want to achieve with your program, it’s time to figure out the process driving it. In other words, what tools and policies will you need to run this program at scale? Consider the following questions:

  • How will employees submit referrals? 
  • What tool will HR use to track employee referrals?
  • How much information on the candidate should be submitted?
  • At what point will incentives be awarded to the referring employee?

Tips for running an effective frontline employee referral program

All employee referral programs are not created equal. Here are a few best practices to consider when building out your program to ensure it’s as effective as possible. 

Turn your employees into brand advocates

Advocacy is the new employee loyalty. But it’s also win-win when it comes to referrals. Your employees will have more success enticing candidates to apply if they know more about the company they’re recruiting for. Share information about your employer brand to your frontliners, and make sure they know all about things like your perks and your brand mission. 

Use simple and clear messaging

The more complex and burdensome an employee referral program is (or sounds like), the less likely employees will submit referrals. Keep the policies simple, and communicate them clearly to your frontline staff. Ensure that employees understand the process for submitting referrals, whether it’s an online form or submitting a resume directly to site management or HR. Clearly state what constitutes a “successful” referral hire, and what the associated incentives are. 

Make the program easy to use at scale

You’re going to be filling roles for dozens, maybe even hundreds of locations depending on the size of your company. So your referral program has to be easy to use at scale. This means clear and simple program mechanics, a communications infrastructure that can easily reach multiple locations and teams and rewards that are enticing but not excessive. You should also have the procedures and manpower in place to be able to handle a large number of open jobs and job applications. Processing candidates as fast as possible (whether they are referrals or not) is key to getting frontline locations the help they need in a timely manner. 

Update your employees on a regular basis

Frontline organizations are always hiring, so it’s a good idea to remind employees of the employee referral program and that you have open positions available. Employees may be shy about referring their friends because they don’t think anything will come of it. So don’t forget to notify employees that a referral has been successfully hired, too! 

Referred employees can be the fastest to hire, last the longest and bring the most value to your business. Referral programs and incentives do a terrific job of encouraging frontline employees to participate, but the truly effective method is making your workplace a positive environment; one that employees would be excited to share with their friends. Once you’ve got a solid employee experience in place, you can start building out an effective employee referral program to spread the word. 

Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a freelance writer covering tech, manufacturing, HR and e-commerce, with occasional forays into CPG and fiction writing.

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