Hiring top talent is no easy task. It’s a careful, time-consuming process—the average organization in the United States spends about 24 days on the interview process alone. But if you bring an excellent employee onto your team as a result, it’s worth the time and effort.
Until, that is, your competition hires that employee away just one year later.
The term we often use for cases of one organization continually hiring talented employees directly from another organization is poaching. A reference, obviously, to illegal hunting practices. This word reflects how many people in the business world view this strategy: unethical or even illegal.
But here’s why that connotation might not be completely accurate.
Employees aren’t property. They aren’t mindless pheasants or instinct-driven deer just following the next meal (or paycheck). No—employees are human beings with distinct preferences, interests, skill sets, and most importantly, free will. In other words, organizations don’t force employees to jump ship; employees choose to jump ship themselves.
In almost every case of employee poaching, the departing employee probably already had a desire to leave—or at least no strong desire to stay. Competing organizations can make alluring offers with higher salaries, better benefits, or an impressive title, but if the employee is truly engaged at your organization, they will be less likely to seriously consider these offers.
So what makes your top-performing employees decide that the grass looks greener elsewhere?
According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report from 2017, only 4 in 10 employees feel they have the opportunity to do what they do best at work everyday. When employees don’t think their skills align with their job duties, they may be motivated to look at other positions. They might also feel this way if it isn’t clear how their job impacts greater organizational objectives. Aligning daily work with bigger goals and individual strengths is a vital part of employee engagement.
Managers play a huge role in an employee’s decision to keep or quit their job. Actually, 44 percent of employees who have left a job said that their boss was the primary reason for their departure, according to the Bad Boss Index from BambooHR.
The five worst manager behaviors in employees’ eyes are ranked as the following:
● Takes credit for your work
● Doesn’t appear to empower or trust you
● Doesn’t appear to care if you’re overworked
● Doesn’t appear to advocate for you when it comes to compensation
● Hires/promotes the wrong people
And if poor managers have this much impact on your organization, just imagine what an excellent manager could do.
Most employees will probably tell you that compensation is the driving reason behind their job swap. Often, top candidates can earn a significant raise by moving to a new job rather than staying at one job. Research published in Forbes in 2014 showed that staying at the same organization for over two years on average will reduce your lifetime earnings by about 50 percent.
Is your organization keeping up with the average compensation in your local area for each role? Are you transparent with how compensation is decided? You may not be able to match what the highest paying organization offers your top-performing employee, but if you compensate them fairly—and they know they are compensated fairly—you can counter the trend of job-hopping for a bigger paycheck.
[Related: Competitive Benefits Kit]
If the root of employee poaching is dissatisfaction and a lack of engagement, then the best remedy is to create an engaging culture that employees don’t want to leave behind. This needs to be a constant effort rather than a one-off initiative, otherwise you risk losing your best people. To prevent the competition from scooping up your top talent, take these steps.
Make engagement a consistent effort in your organization by measuring it often. Many organizations—64 percent—only measure employee engagement once per year, according to research from Deloitte, and only 8 percent measure monthly or more often.
Try issuing an engagement survey to your employees on a regular basis, or use quarterly performance reviews as a chance to discuss engagement. When you have a pulse on both company-wide and individual levels of engagement, you’ll have a better idea of how to buoy them up in your organization.
As part of measuring engagement, you should be able to get a sense for what individual employees want and need from their jobs. Pay attention to this feedback, especially from your top performers.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of human needs that we can apply to the workplace. Basic needs include reasonable hours, a livable wage, and safe work conditions, while higher needs include things like positive coworker relationships, recognition for a job well done, and opportunities to develop and grow.
To keep employees happy, your organization must meet these needs in the right order. For example, if an employee has to work overtime every week, a few good friends in the office likely won’t be enough to keep her around when a better offer comes along.
It’s up to you and your managers to recognize and satisfy these needs.
[Related: The Employee Wellness Playbook]
Despite your best efforts, there will always be some employees who leave for new opportunities. The important final step in handling employee poaching is to keep a positive relationship with top talent that does move on—no burning bridges.
In one case study, a restaurateur responded with kindness and encouragement when one of his top managers decided to leave. Because he kept in touch with her during her time at this other organization, he was able to hire her back when an opportunity became available at his new restaurant. He said, “She came back to us. And to our benefit, she had learned a lot and is a more fully formed individual.”
While employee poaching from the competition can be aggravating, remember to focus only on the elements you can control like boosting employee engagement and creating a great place to work. The better you perform in these areas, the more your employees will want to stick with you through thick and thin.
To get started on improving engagement in your organization today, check out our 2018 Employee Engagement Checklist & Calendar.
Tori Fica is an HR Copywriter for BambooHR (@bamboohr), the leading HR software solution for small and medium businesses. Through research, analysis, and writing, she creates content to help HR professionals think and plan more strategically. Her focus is providing actionable ideas based on the latest trends in HR.