The Key to Gathering Employee Referrals: Changing Employee Perceptions

Jan 12, 2005

From the outside looking in, most people see the human resources function as a necessary corporate evil that slows down the business. Still referred to as the “personnel department” in many less-than-progressive organizations, human resources exists in the minds of many employees strictly for the purpose of dealing with administrative overflow and the tasks of “hiring and firing.” While the human resources function does typically deal with the responsibilities of recruitment and terminations within a company, these roles are not all encompassing, and they certainly do not cover the array of issues and jobs functions which fall under the list of responsibilities for most human resources (HR) departments. This image of HR has been etched in the forefront of our employees and co-workers; it would seem that everywhere we look an example of these inaccuracies exists. Television shows like the recently cancelled “Drew Carey Show,” the comic strip “Dilbert,” and the movie “Office Space” all paint human resources as inept or evil, often times both. News outlets reinforce this skewed version of HR; employee recognition programs and leadership training are not necessarily front page headlines, but the unfortunate announcement of a reduction in force (RIF, layoff) is the lead story on the evening news. Human resources departments across the country are engaged in a never-ending public relations battle not just with the outside world, but also internally with their employee base. Employees have taken the stance that HR is not their friend, and they have become afraid to approach those persons most equipped to assist them. The issue becomes scary when we consider the ramifications as related to issues like sexual harassment, ADA, labor relations, public perception of the organization, as well as the success of HR programs like employee referrals. The impact of disenchanted employees on the recruiting function has been detrimental when we consider that, on average, nearly one-third of all employees are hired as a direct result of an employee referral, according to New York-based MMC Group. If our employees do not trust HR, do we honestly believe that they will be willing to encourage their friends and family to come work for us? Possible solutions to this growing dilemma include the following:

  1. Unlock the door and keep it open. Human resources functions that have been able to build employee trust and respect have done so by their willingness to give employees straightforward information about company performance and the logic used by management and HR during their decision-making processes. These companies also strongly encourage participation in an open communication exchange. Under the most effective HR leadership, this process applies to both the good and the bad, giving employees a sense of being “in the loop.”
  2. Sift through the suggestion box. Once employees feel as though information sharing is a healthy part of day-to-day business, HR needs to take into account any new information it is hearing. One way to enhance this employee-to-management communication process is through employee surveys. HR needs to analyze this information, act upon those things that can be changed immediately, and develop plans for longer-term goals. When employees feel as though their voice has been heard, they become the best supporters for company change ó because, after all, it was their idea in the first place.
  3. Praise the benefits of benefits. A company’s benefits package does not solely consist of medical benefits or a savings program, but rather the employee’s total compensation. HR departments must do a better job of “selling” their full benefits packages to current and prospective employees. In addition to savings and medical programs, HR should consider some of the following as well.
    • Vacation
    • Holidays
    • Employee discounts
    • Dress code
    • Community involvement
    • Corporate communication
    • Tuition reimbursement
    • Training/OD program
  4. Bottom-to-top accountability. Following the recent scandals in corporate America, employees find it more difficult to trust HR and management. One way to combat this is through a stringent corporate compliance/ethics program, with all levels of employees held responsible for their actions. Employees watch every move management makes, and a wall can be built quite quickly if they see that managers are not being held accountable in the same manner as front line employees.

Corporate trust and harmony cannot be earned overnight; it is a process that will take months if not years to build. However, human resources can reap the rewards much sooner than that, because as employees see an effort being made the floodgates will open and employees will begin to feel HR and management is more approachable.