Sunday | February 18, 2018

Guard Against Poaching Employees

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you applies to recruitment practices. For example, is the poaching of employees from other companies allowed? Is it ethical?

Given today’s employment market, it is harder and harder to retain a competent workforce, stay in business and prosper. In such an environment, many employers may resort to more aggressive employment and retention approaches. One of these practices is “poaching,” or recruiting your competitor’s top talent when that employee has not expressly shown an interest in joining your firm. Is it proper for an employer to solicit your top talent? Is it legal? Is it ethical? Is it proper for an employee to discuss employment with another company, even if it is a competitor of his current employer and is in his professional interest?

It may surprise you to find that poaching is not illegal. There is no prohibition from aggressively recruiting or encouraging employees to leave their current employment and join your organization. However, such practices can be disadvantageous to the employee by giving him a reputation of being unreliable or to the employer by giving it a reputation as a poacher opening it up to talent wars. This begs the question of how to recruit top talent without gaining a reputation as a poacher. Here are some tips for recruiting and retaining employees.

Review your recruitment policy. Use your professional network to spread the word that you are hiring, allowing any interested candidate to come to you. Establish a set of standards for seeking out employees and stick to it. Watch out for non-compete agreements. Do not use recruitment to attempt to gain proprietary or confidential information from your competitors. Depending on your state’s laws, you may be inviting an expensive lawsuit if you do hire an employee who signed a non-compete agreement or if the employee violates a confidentiality clause or steals proprietary information. Make your recruitment standards applicable to your third-party recruiting agencies. Do not allow them to engage in overly aggressive recruitment practices.

Use an employee referral system. Asking other employees to refer qualified individuals is not considered to be poaching and remains a viable way to recruit talent. The employee is acting as an ambassador for your organization and, in most situations, cannot promise that the referral would result in employment or negotiate salary. Poaching, on the other hand, is motivated by the desire to reduce competition and hurt your competitor. Referrals are ethical.

Review your culture and policies. Are they designed to keep your employees happy and at your business? What do you do to recognize your top talent? Money isn’t always all that is needed. Many employees are motivated by non-monetary benefits: recognition, advancement opportunities, flexible work hours, vacation and personal time, etc. Make certain that as a business you are addressing these needs as well. Often employees move not for the monetary compensation but for new challenges, or because she was passed over for a promotion. Watch for trigger events that make your employees more susceptible, such as anniversary dates, end of year, or clues that an employee may be looking for other opportunities.

Build a close relationship with your key employees. Listen. Use your annual reviews to listen to your top talent and adjust work if necessary in the upcoming year. Making sure your top talent is treated well may be all that is needed to deflect that call when it comes. Be proactive. Don’t wait to make that counter-offer as often it is too late. If you have lost employees to poaching, you should understand why. Are the employees being lost from a particular team or department? Where are you losing employees? Do you track? Do you do a root cause analysis when your top talent leaves and consider changing policies to address the reasons for leaving? Look to see how you can address the negatives with positives like providing the employee with new opportunities and work that is high profile, exciting and fulfilling. Cultivating a positive work environment and a culture where your employees thrive may be the antidote to poaching.


Keep Your Top Talent

  • Cultivate a positive work environment.
  • Give valuable workers high-profile jobs.
  • Advance and/or recognize top workers.
  • Listen to workers during annual reviews.
  • Perform exit interviews when employees leave to learn what you can do to keep other workers.

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