Why Employees ‘Pay it Forward’ with Referrals

More companies are turning to employee referrals as one great solution to their staffing needs. We know that the popularity of such programs is on the rise and that experts are blogging about the money and time saved with this method. Yet, many recruiters still ask themselves the all-important question: What will motivate employees to refer their friends?

shutterstock_81294004-3-happy-employeesThe answer to that might surprise you. Evidence suggests that while rewards and gamification play a key role in employees’ decision to refer, altruism, the desire to “pay it forward,” is actually a key motivating factor.

During the 1940’s, Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin first talked about a part of our brain that is programmed for altruism. More recent studies in neuropsychology have confirmed this idea. In the last decade, in the wake of the economic downturn, we have seen new proof of this tendency.

Today words like transparency, fair trade and sustainability are regular parts of our vocabulary, as consumers have begun to demand that companies make ethics an important part of any business decision.

A good example of this is Microsoft, which has built a reputation for its charitable giving, a factor that has actual aided in recruitment. “When you’re living through a time when unemployment is up and when people see more human needs, there is a greater focus now on what companies and employees are doing to address those human needs,” according to Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith.

The ‘Millenium generation’ has been vocal about the importance of balancing their work success with helping others and many Baby Boomers (once hippies) are returning to those same values. One need look no further than the tremendous surge of volunteerism in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to see this in practice.

This same trend is sweeping through recruitment. As unemployment has risen, there has been a parallel surge in helping friends find employment and helping employers build a great team. Social media has been the primary forum for this kind of sharing. Professional groups on LinkedIn and Facebook are bursting with individuals sharing available jobs with their friends and contacts. In many cases, their only motivation is the desire to help others during a difficult time.

Hans Gieskes is President & CEO of Cision AB group and recruitment expert wrote of employee referral programsIt’s not about financial rewards; it’s about prudent people carefully managing their social credit balance sheet to first of all help people whose relationship they value.

Of course, motivating employees to make referrals goes beyond expecting them to do so for purely altruistic reasons and investing in a fun, competitive rewards program will certainly help employees make the time to do it. But, when deciding on your recruitment methods, it helps to remember that many employees today are actively looking to “pay it forward.” The feeling of helping others – including their employer – is actually very rewarding.

And the result for the hiring company just happens to be a happier, more motivated staff.


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