Referral bonus ideas that your employees will love

Last updated:
July 21, 2021
December 19, 2021
min read
Adrie Smith
Table of contents

We want to share some brilliant referral bonus ideas with you. Why? Because most people think that cash is the only way to reward employees who refer successful hires, but it’s not the only way. Not everyone is motivated by the same thing, and cash doesn’t always appeal.

Before we look at recruitment incentive ideas, have you got a defined employee referral program in place? Also, is your working environment conducive to recruiting incentive ideas? If employees are overly stressed or unhappy, they wouldn’t want to expose their contacts to the same.

Why and when employee referral programs work

There’s little value in implementing a referral bonus program without understanding what motivates your workforce, or if they’re disengaged. That means you first have to do some upfront research to see what’s going down and what will work.

Motivators change at each stage of life and are also defined by what interests us at the time. For example, young singles could be inspired by an exciting weekend of extreme sports like white water rafting or paragliding. New couples who are starting out will probably appreciate some extra cash. And people who are more settled in life might prefer a weekend at a plush seaside resort.

You must understand your staff mix and diversity. Employee engagement also plays a massive role in how willing they’d be to refer someone. If their employee experience is just day in and day out slog-and-grind, why would they want to invite others to join them? Do your employees feel heard and appreciated, or are they just working from one paycheck to the next?

How do you answer these questions?

Communication! You should continuously be gauging the attitude of your employees through ongoing performance management and internal communication. If HR is managing employee engagement properly, you’ll know how your workforce feels in real-time. This should be an ongoing responsibility of HR.

You can’t get it right without the help of HR tech tools like performance management software and internal communication tools. Once implemented, these tech tools can be integrated with your HR systems and your applicant tracking system (ATS). Combined HR metrics and analytics will tell you everything you need to know about the type of people working at the company. You will also learn how they feel about their job and what motivates them on a personal level.

Remember, referral incentives must appeal to individual core values. It has nothing to do with career moves or job satisfaction. You’re looking to touch the nerve that says “yeah, I’d like to do that!” Apart from internal diversity, if you’re a multinational, you’re dealing with a range of cultural motivators as well. It’s vital that you get input from regional HR and hiring managers and tailor your referral bonus policy to meet cultural preferences and belief systems.

Where do referral bonuses fit in?

You need to make it an HR marketing function. It’s no secret that top companies invest a great deal of time in crafting hire incentives and keep on working at them. The workforce constantly evolves so your referral program must keep pace. It needs to be refreshed and marketed internally on an ongoing basis.

You can’t devise an incentive, put it out there once and expect employees to buy into it and keep it alive. It’s your responsibility to maintain the spark of interest by reminding employees regularly, updating referral bonus options and measuring what yields results and what doesn’t. Regularly share success stories of hired referrals and referring employees. Make it public via social media and a big thing internally by sharing details across internal communication platforms and at staff functions. Include referral bonuses in your employer value proposition.

Employee referral program examples

Here are some examples of what other organizations are doing.


This full-service software design and development company, replaced cash incentives with tech gadgets (something that software developers are most passionate about). They backed their referral program with devices such as a new iPhone or Apple watch just as they hit the shelves. These hard to get rewards proved to be much more popular than cash.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Motivates employees through public recognition across all social channels. Staff who refer a successful hire are referred to as “champions” and projected as role models and positive examples for other employees. This builds and reinforces a culture of honor, respect and recognition.


Found that money doesn’t necessarily motivate. They doubled their referral bonus and saw no more quality referrals coming through than before. They decided to change their approach by introducing a technique they called “aided recall” and included trips to Hawaii as a referral bonus. Aided recall has recruiters sending out pointed internal emails asking people direct questions like “who’s the best marketing person you know?” These two innovative changes saw a massive spike in the number of successful referrals.


Are a cloud infrastructure provider who tried something completely different, and it worked! They restructured their employee referral program to reward employees with a $3,500 referral bonus and an additional $1,500 charity donation on behalf of the staff member. If the employee opted to donate more, DigitalOcean matched their extra donation. Successful referrals increased substantially. Many people have a strong social conscience and want to contribute to the betterment of others.

Referral incentive ideas

As you can see from the examples, it’s all about different strokes for different folks. Knowing what motivates your employees to take action is crucial to a successful employee referral incentive program. Of course your organization might not have the resources that top companies do, but you can use their examples to come up with unique ideas of your own.

Based on your company culture, vision and employer brand, think of innovative concepts that will appeal to your staff and promote organizational ideals. Don’t have only one bonus option; give people a choice. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Additional paid leave days.
  • Paid days off to support and work at local charities.
  • Cash donations to charities of the employee’s choice.
  • A full-day or weekend treatment at a luxury health spa.
  • Cash bonuses (there are always people who could do with a bit more).
  • A course payment for anything from bodybuilding to coaching or baking.
  • A meal voucher for the employee and their family at a top local restaurant.
  • A paid day trip to a fun theme park for the employee and their family.
  • Paid holiday trips (if you can’t afford Hawaii some local destination will do just as well).

People are often motivated by things that they’d like to do but can’t afford on their budget. In that case, being able to treat their family can be a huge inspiration. That type of referral bonus is similar to winning a prize and who doesn’t like winning something?

Essentials to consider

  • Follow HR tech trends to find options that will optimize your rewards and the results.
  • You must have a defined referral bonus policy that is affordable, realistic and applies to all qualifying employees across the board.
  • The terms of payment/reward must be clear; most organizations only pay out after three to six months from the date of hire.
  • If any employees are excluded from the program, it must be stipulated; many companies exclude HR, recruiters and staff who are directly responsible for making hiring decisions.
  • Most organizations exclude referrals who’ve had any contact with the company previously through job portals or the company career site; you’ll pick them up on your ATS.
  • You might want to restrict the program to hard to find skills only; if you do, it must be clearly stipulated in the T’s & C’s.
  • The value of the reward must be enough to motivate, but not so much that it becomes distracting; experts recommend between two to four percent of the job’s annual cash pay.
  • The cash value of referral bonuses ranges from about $250 for entry-level positions to $25,000 for executive roles.
  • The average employee referral bonus amount ranges from $1,000 to $5,000.
  • The referring employee must be given recognition within the organization, and their reward must be made known. Transparency is essential.
  • Never refuse to pay out a referral bonus if it meets all the prescribed T’s & C’s; you’ll demotivate your workforce, lose trust and damage your employer brand.
  • An employee referral program isn’t an easy-sell; employees have job and personal responsibilities, so you have to work it to get results.

Do you need an employee referral program?

It depends very much on the size of your organization and the industry. If you’re in an industry that’s facing mounting talent shortages, it’s best to get a company referral policy implemented sooner rather than later.

There are industries that aren’t particularly affected by skills shortages and if you fall into that category you might want to have a program that applies to select abilities only. In that case you’ll market each role with a specific referral bonus when it becomes vacant. Smaller organizations might also find this a better option than running an ongoing, open-ended program where employees get paid for job referrals.

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