FitX is Germany’s second largest gym provider with almost 100 fitness studios across the country. The company, with its three headquarters – two in Essen and one in Berlin – employs a total of 3,000 people, with 2,700 of them working in its branches. The diverse areas of activity with different needs and conditions represent a major challenge for recruiting. In addition to positions in administration, the digital unit of the company and the independently-operating construction department, the recruiting focus is primarily on the operational branch of business. Structural changes in the fitness-training profession due to the pandemic, and the adaptation of the job descriptions to meet the necessary prevention measures in the fitness studios, have further fueled the willingness to change.
Marc Dickmann, Team Lead Candidate Experience at FitX, also sees the current shortage of skilled workers and the resulting war for talent, which is primarily reflected in the company’s headquarters, as a challenge. At the same time, he sees a clear competitive advantage in specifically addressing passive candidates through referral recruiting.
The fitness industry is known for its tight-knit network of experts. FitX recognized the great potential in this and wanted to use it as a lever – putting to use their employees’ existing network to reach new talent more quickly. The target is those who are already working in the industry but are still on the search for the right company.
FitX hired new people based on referrals even before Firstbird, but there was no clear concept behind it, so the actual success could not be measured and employees were not rewarded for their efforts. In addition, recruiting at FitX is carried out decentrally and autonomously by the individual branches, which means that the HR department had very limited, if any, control over options before implementing Firstbird, which enabled referral recruiting to be promoted uniformly. The goal here was clear: instead of the occasional referral from existing team members, an efficient and well thought-out employee referral program should be implemented, thereby making full use of the potential of this recruiting channel.
By implementing Firstbird, FitX succeeded in establishing employee referrals as a successful recruiting channel.
Just eight weeks after the introduction of the employee referral program in April 2019, the first recruitment took place and the numbers have been increasing continuously from then. Three years after their implementation, the company generates around 10% of all new vacancies through employee referrals.
In the pandemic year, 2021, there were 67 hires via Firstbird. In a normal fiscal year that is not affected by pandemic-related closures, the need for hiring is slightly higher.
The number of new employees through referral recruiting alone isn’t what drives FitX to see the great benefit of the employee referral program, but also the quality of referrals. On average, 17% of all recommended applicants are hired.
The company reports that referral candidates are usually a better fit for the company because they already have an idea of what to expect and are an excellent addition to the team and company culture.
Below, we take a closer look at how Marc Dickmann and his team used Firstbird to turn employee referrals into one of the company’s most successful recruiting channels.
The Introduction of Firstbird
When introducing the employee referral program, there were a few things that FitX had to take into account in its recruiting strategy: firstly, the decentralised control of recruiting by the individual branches, making a uniform and well thought-out communication strategy an absolute must.
Secondly, the majority of employees in the branches do not have a professional email address, which is why important messages are brought to the studios in a traditional way, and studio managers who have professional email addresses are then tasked with passing on the information.
For this reason, the team led by Marc Dickmann organised kick-off events directly in the studios and at the administrative locations to communicate the introduction of Firstbird. Additionally, posters were placed in the branches and information flyers on the tool’s functions were printed.
Marc Dickmann explains: “We divided the rollout into different phases in order to ensure touchpoints for our colleagues through ongoing communication. This enabled us to continuously increase the number of participants on the one hand and the activity in the tool on the other. We still run small campaigns at regular intervals to keep reminding people about the program and motivate our Talent Scouts.”
The figures also confirm that the effort is paying off. The chart below shows how the number of registered users is steadily increasing. The company is still recruiting new talent scouts even three years after the program was launched.
The second chart also shows that the registered employees actively use the referral program. Since its launch, vacancies have been shared nearly 5,200 times.
Marc Dickmann also points out that an employee referral program is an ongoing project that you have to work on constantly to see success. He himself works with a content and communication plan and tries out a lot of new things together with his team to find out what works well.
The Reward Strategy
At the beginning of the employee referral program – “VitaminX” – as FitX refers to it internally, employees were only given cash rewards as an incentive for a successful referral. All vacancies, regardless of the job profile, are considered equal and remunerated with the same amount. Marc Dickmann emphasises the importance of treating the commitment of all employees with the same appreciation and not judging any network as more or less valuable. However, for economic reasons, the company later decided to only monetize referrals for permanent jobs and to exclude minor positions from the program. Regarding the amount of the cash reward, the company tells us that the amount does not exceed the four-digit range.
Regarding the way the reward is paid out, Marc Dickmann says: “We thought about this for a long time and ultimately decided to give our colleagues the benefit of the doubt. We pay out the bonus as soon as the employee starts working for us, and we don’t pay it out in bits and pieces, but all at once. So far, we have only been rewarded for our trust.”
Shortly after the launch, FitX also introduced Firstbird’s reward shop in its employee referral program to provide further incentives for referrals with non-cash rewards. By actively participating in the referral program, Talent Scouts collect coins that they can later exchange in the reward shop for a range of gifts, small and large, available exclusively in the reward shop. For example, FitX offers the following rewards:
- Bluetooth speakers
- Wristbands that serve as key cards for gym turnstiles and lockers
- Massage guns
- Donations to a charity that supports children with heart disease and cancer
- Vouchers for a sports nutrition shop
The company has come up with a unique concept for Talent Scouts in short-term employment: in order to avoid putting these employees in a situation where they would have to pay extra taxes due to the additional earnings, they receive so-called free shifts instead of a monetary bonus for a successful referral. This means that they have to work fewer hours to get to their 450 euro, without any downsides.
Marc Dickmann says of the implementation of this idea: “It was a bit tricky to find out, firstly, whether this was possible and secondly, how it could be implemented. We received good advice on that. Alternatively, we have a rewards store with all kinds of different large and small rewards for our X-lers and have quite a good range there to offer an incentive for everyone who wants to take part.”
When asked why FitX chose Firstbird, Marc Dickmann replies:
“We screened various tools and ultimately decided on Firstbird because it was the solution that initially showed compatibility with our applicant management system in the most uncomplicated way.”
In addition, Firstbird, with its intuitive handling, is able to reach employees who are less tech-savvy and use the Firstbird app on their private smartphone. The Team Lead Candidate Experience sees the reporting and tracking options as a great added value, since they allow good control of the program and ultimately enable performance to be evaluated. “The transparency that the tool provides was also convincing in the end,” says Dickmann.
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