4 Most Innovative Employee Referral Bonus Ideas

Check out the top 4 most innovative employee referral bonus ideas! How do big brands motivate their employees to refer high-quality candidates? Discover their secrets and use them to improve your own employee referral program by adding the most effective employee referral bonuses!


How to motivate employees to take part in an employee referral program?

Motivating your employees is the biggest pain point many HR professionals face when dealing with employee referral programs.

They work hard to setup up a structured employee referral program.

They are excited to see how their brand new employee referral program can improve the time, cost and quality of hire

However, all their hopes and dreams fall flat. 

This is because their employees don’t share their excitement and aren’t motivated enough to take help put their company’s in finding qualified candidates.

➡️ Check out our Ultimate guide for finding qualified candidates!

According to LinkedIn's research, an overwhelming majority of HR professionals (87%) agree that the number-one way to boost referrals is through better employee engagement.

So how to effectively motivate employees to take part in an employee referral program?

Lure them in with some great employee referral bonus incentives! 

According to research, most companies offer cash employee referral bonus:


However, just because most companies use cash prizes, it doesn’t mean that employee referral bonus in a form of a cash prize is necessarily the best way to motivate your employees to take part in an employee referral program. 

As a matter of fact, a recent LinkedIn's research reports that the main reason why employees refer candidates is to help their friends and their company:

How can you create a referral program at your company?
By logging in to your TalentLyft profile you will be able to create a referral program in just a few clicks. Allow your employees to choose their teammates and reward them for doing a good job at it!
 See how it works 

What is the best employee referral bonus idea for your company?

So what is the best way to motivate your own employees to take part in your employee referral program?

The only way to find out what type of incentives would work best for your own employees is to ask them!

Conduct a survey and ask your employees what would motivate them to take part in your employee referral program.

Conducting research may take some of your time and effort, but it is well worth it. 

Best practice advice for conducting an employee referral bonus idea research:

Different types of employee referral bonuses

There are 3 main types of employee referral bonuses:

1. Financial employee referral bonus

What is it?
A financial bonus is a type of employee referral bonus in the form of a cash prize. 

Who is it for?
This type of employee referral bonus is perfect for employees whose motivation to take part in employee referral programs is to earn money

A certain amount of money is paid off to an employee who referred a candidate that was hired.  

2. Social employee referral bonus

What is it?
A social bonus is a type of employee referral bonus in a form of social recognition and praise.  

Who is it for?
This type of employee referral bonus is perfect for employees whose motivation to take part in employee referral programs is to be seen as a valuable colleague.  

A CEO publicly gives praise to the best-referring employee in the all-hands company meeting.  

3. Altruistic employee referral bonus

What is it?
An altruistic bonus is a type of employee referral bonus in the form of socially responsible gifts.  

Who is it for?
This type of employee referral bonus is perfect for employees whose motivation to take part in employee referral programs is to help out their friends and/or company.  

Give a donation on your employees’ behalf to their favorite charity/cause.  

4 great examples of employee referral ideas

There is a proven shortcut that can help you design your perfect employee referral bonuses: benchmarking. 

Learn from the most successful companies and let them inspire your own employee referral bonus ideas!

So what do most successful companies do? What makes them stand out? What kind of employee referral bonuses do they offer?

Here are 4 great examples of innovative employee referral bonus ideas:


1. Employee referral bonus: Trips 

➡️ Google’s story: 

The best possible employee referral bonus you can provide for your employees is a trip!

It may not be the first thing that comes to your mind, or even your employees’ mind when you ask them what they would like.

However, according to Google, it is what makes employees happy. And I mean really happy. Happier than they would have been receiving a million dollars!

Yes, you read that right. 

Google found out that giving its employees trips to Hawaii is better than offering them a $1M employee referral cash bonuses.

If you’re not convinced, Bengaluru-based mobile advertising network InMobi tried the same thing.

The result? They raised their employee referral rate by 100%!

➡️ Key takeaway: 

Test out Google’s best practice with your own employees!

Even if you can’t afford to offer employee referral bonuses such as:

find a similar, more affordable options.

There sure is a great weekend getaway destination in your country, or even in your region. 

2. Employee referral bonus: Charitable donation

➡️ DigitalOcean’s story: 

Another great idea is to structure your employee referral bonuses to serve a good cause. 

This is exactly what the DigitalOcean did.

In May 2017, DigitalOcean launched its new referrals incentive structure.

For each referral candidate who is hired, the referring employee received a $3,500 Referral Bonus in addition to a $1,500 charitable donation paid by DigitalOcean on the employee’s behalf.

If the employee chooses to contribute an additional portion of the payout to charity, DigitalOcean matched that added donation.

The result? In 2017, 40% of DigitalOcean’s new hires have been referrals.

➡️ Key takeaway: 

Help your employees support a charitable organization in a community that has personal meaning to them.

Besides helping your employees feel great because they’re doing a good thing, it will also enhance your Employer Brand.

It will be a powerful statement about what you care about as a company and an important reason that will make many other talented people choose your company and then refer their friends and colleagues to you as well.

3. Employee referral bonus: Public recognition

➡️ Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s story: 

Hewlett Packard Enterprise motivates their employees to embrace the employee referral program by publicly recognizing them as great contributors to their company.

This company builds a culture that honors, respects and recognizes employees who refer qualified candidates.

By recognizing their referring employes as “champions” and celebrating their success, this company makes them into positive examples and role models for other employees.


➡️ Key takeaway: 

Recognize and thank your employees for referring great candidates!

Even if their candidate doesn’t end up hired in the end, you should still think of a way to thank them for their time and effort. 

Here are a few employee referral bonus ideas to get you started:

Choose the gesture that fits your company culture best.

Even better, come up with your own ritual and employee referral bonus that will make your employees feel appreciated and special. 

4. Employee referral bonus: Give them what they love the most

➡️ Distillery’s story: 

Distillery is a full-service software development company.

As such, their greatest concern is attracting highly-qualified software developers. 

This is why they developed a special employee referral program aimed at getting their current software developers to recommend great candidates.

What they found is that the type of employee referral bonuses is really important.

This is why they decided to reward their referring employees by giving them employee referral bonus in form of the things they love and are most passionate about. 

They discovered that software developers like new gadgets and that what’s been working really great for their employees as a referral bonus.

According to Andrey Kudievskiy, Distillery’s CEO:

New gadgets, such as a new iPhone or Apple Watch that has just hit the stores here in the U.S. and is not yet available in Russia work best.

Those hard-to-get bonuses produced a much better result than significantly bigger monetary compensation.

➡️ Key takeaway: 

There is no universal best type of employee referral bonus that works for every company and every employee.

You need to find out what type of employee referral bonus works for your own employees best.

Personalization does make a difference when it comes to employee referral bonuses!

Traditional cash employee referral bonuses

If you decide to go with traditional, cash employee referral bonuses, here is what you need to know: 

Of course, these numbers can vary greatly across different industries and specific positions.

So how to calculate the exact value of employee referral cash bonuses that would be optimal to motivate your own employees?

Let’s hear it from an expert! 

Dr. John Sullivan, the head of the Human Management Program at San Francisco State University and an expert in employee referral programs, says that the amount of the employee referral cash bonus must be enough to get your employees’ attention, but not so much as to distract them from their real job.

He recommends:

starting with 2 - 4% of the jobs’ pay and then adjusting as the number of referrals fall short / exceed your needs.

Finally, check out a guide to Calculating Bonuses for Employees, which includes detailed instructions on how to calculate different kinds of bonuses. 

Looking for more awesome employee referral bonus ideas?

If you’re looking for more awesome employee referral bonus ideas, check out the list of the top 50 employee referral reward ideas.

Frequently asked questions

What are some innovative employee referral bonus ideas? 

Innovative ideas include offering trips, making charitable donations in employees' names, providing public recognition, and giving personalized rewards like favorite gadgets.

How can non-monetary incentives be effective in employee referral programs? 

Non-monetary incentives like trips or recognition align with employees' personal values and can be more motivating than cash, fostering a stronger company culture.

Why is it important to tailor referral bonuses to employees' preferences? 

Tailoring bonuses ensures they resonate with employees' individual motivations, making the referral program more effective and engaging.

How can companies determine the best referral bonuses for their employees? 

Conducting employee surveys to understand preferences and motivations can help companies identify the most impactful referral bonuses.

What role do employee referral programs play in talent acquisition? 

Referral programs leverage employees' networks, leading to higher-quality candidates and improving overall recruitment efficiency.

backgound backgound
Transform Your Hiring Process from Reactive to Proactive

Transform Your Hiring Process from Reactive to Proactive

Download this guide to learn about how you can transform hiring from reactive to proactive, and be more strategic when hiring talent for your new job openings.
Get your eBook

Further reading

55 Best Job Boards in 2024 (Free + Paid) 55 Best Job Boards in 2024 (Free + Paid)
Welcome to the ultimate cheat sheet for navigating the jungle of job boards! At this time, the space of job boards is almost endless, ranging from widely recognized...
How to Create a Hiring Plan That Works How to Create a Hiring Plan That Works
Imagine working in tourism, and you start posting ads for seasonal jobs a month before the beginning of the season? We all know it will be a disaster. Because we...

By topics

Attracting Candidates
Best HR Blogs
Candidate Experience
Careers Page
Collaborative Hiring
Conducting Interviews
Coronavirus (Covid-19)
Company Culture
Employee Management
Employee Onboarding
Internal Recruitment
Employer Branding
Hire planning
HR Software
HR Tech Trends
Interview Questions
Job Advertisement
Mobile Recruitment
News & Updates
People Analytics
Recruiting Stats
Recruitment Agencies
AI in Recruitment
Recruitment by Industry
Recruitment Content
Recruitment Marketing
Recruitment Process
Recruitment & HR Software
Recruitment Trends
Remote Work
Resume Screening
Candidate Assessment
Social Recruiting
Talent Sourcing
Successful Recruiter
Talent Acquisition
Tech Recruiting
Employee Retention
Video in Recruitment
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Your hiring teammate

TalentLyft is an intuitive recruitment app made for successful hiring.