Getting the Most Out of Employee Referral Programs in Healthcare

Getting the Most Out of Employee Referral Programs in Healthcare
Senior Director of Marketing

Employee referral programs are a classic tool for building your talent pipeline, and healthcare organizations continue to use them to to find qualified candidates efficiently.

“Studies show that employee referrals are the number one source of quality hires,” says Lori Burt, Administrative Director of Talent Acquisition and Compensation at Stanford Health Care. “If that truly is the case, we want to incent our employees to introduce us to their friends to drive great hires. Therefore, an employee referral program is a critical recruiting tool for us in the near future as we prepare to open our new hospital.”

As with many business initiatives, you’ll need buy-in from the top to make it a part of your organization’s culture and get everyone involved to help it succeed, says Kendall Frazier, co-founder of Employee Referrals, which provides software to manage employee referrals.

Here are a few tips to strengthen your employee referral program.

Build Referrals Into Your Onboarding Process

“Your new hires are by far your best source of referrals,” Frazier says. Because they were recently employed somewhere else, he says, their network is fresh and they’re still close to people at other organizations who might be a good fit. In addition, they’re feeling good about joining your organization and may be likely to recommend it.

Frazier says several of his clients ask new hires about possible referrals as a part of the onboarding process. Include a form or field in your new-hire packet or platform to ask about anyone they may know who might be interested in a position at your organization.

Train Managers to Seek Referrals

Your hiring managers are your greatest ally for running a good referral program, Frazier says.  Managers who are in contact with employees who can make referrals every day are in a better position than HR directors or recruiters to communicate about the need for qualified new hires.  “When they say ‘referrals are important, we’re looking to expand the team, who do you know?’ employees take it a little more seriously,” Frazier says.

In addition, hiring managers have a strong incentive to make those requests, as they feel the pain directly if there’s an absence on the team, Frazier says.

Keep Things Simple

Referral guidelines and payout schedules must be clear and easy to follow, Burt says. “Employees will refer their friends, but if the process is too cumbersome or complicated, the program may not reach its optimal usage,” she says. She suggests paying the employee for the referral at the time of hire instead of splitting up the payouts at milestone moments in the new-hire lifecycle.

HM Systems, which provides therapist staffing services for schools and families, has used variable payments for employee referrals as a way to grow, says Alice Heebner, an Occupational Therapist at the company. Payouts vary based on factors including position, how long the new hire stays and whether the new hire is full time or part time. Other organizations may pay bonuses based on the referral’s performance, or smaller incentives for good leads that don’t lead to hires.

Communicate Effectively

Specialized positions that are harder to fill are ripe for referral programs, but a well-planned program won’t do much good if you miss the mark on communications. Healthcare organizations with employee referral programs sometimes run into trouble because they rely on email to tell employees about the program, says Brady Banks, an Account Executive at Employee Referrals. Many clinical workers, such as nurses, don’t spend a lot of time on email, which means they may miss chances to recommend people for positions.

Banks says a multifaceted approach is key for getting the word out about referral programs. Mobile platforms, text-message reminders and posters with QR codes can all reach clinical employees who are more likely to have the connections you’re looking for.

Also, remember to be clear and specific in communications about mandatory qualifications so you don’t end up sorting through applicants who don’t fit. And employees need to be trained on how to “talk up” the employer to potential employees and to highlight what makes it unique.

Use Automation to Track Candidates

Burt says a drawback of employee referral programs can be the manual effort it takes to keep track of all the candidates and hires. An unwieldy system will undermine the progress you’re trying to make with your hiring, but Burt says automation can help. “Work with your ATS or other resources to try to automate the program,” she says.

As healthcare organizations continue to grow and expand, finding the best candidates will be key to success. Employee referral programs represent a great opportunity to build a pipeline of qualified candidates and, ideally, new hires. “Rewarding your employees to make referrals is a win-win if it’s done right,” Burt says.

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