poaching employees

Business women in conflictNo company wants to lose a valuable employee – especially not to their competition. Losing a good worker is not only a loss for the company, but it is also expensive – all the time you spent training them ends up moving over to your competitor, not to mention the experience they gained at your company. So how can you prevent your competition from poaching your employees?

One way companies deal with this is by making employees sign non-compete agreements or non-solicitation contracts, but employees are not always keen to do so. Even if employees do sign these contracts, they are not always legally-binding – courts will not enforce provisions that they deem “unreasonable,” and some states don’t even recognize these contracts.

Therefore, the question of what to do when a competitor tries to poach an employee is one that needs to be preceded by a different question: What can you do to make your company a place that employees would not want to leave?

The answer is to create a company culture of high morale, appreciation, and financial compensation – in other words, a culture employees will not want to leave. When you create a company culture in which employees are valued and morale is high, your competitors will usually be unsuccessful at poaching your employees. (One good way to create this culture is to hold regular feedback sessions with employees.)

Once you’ve taken the steps towards making an attractive company culture, you can move on to practical steps about what to do if poaching occurs.

If you learn that one of your top employees is considering leaving, call a meeting to discuss the situation directly. Find out why they are considering leaving – in many cases, it’s not just about the money. It could be about looking for new challenges or simply needing a change of pace. If your employee gives these reasons, you can try to find solutions within your own company – giving him new tasks, new responsibilities, greater flexibility, etc.

If your employee says he is leaving because your competitor offers a better salary, there are a few things to consider before you jump to counteroffer. First, your employee might say it’s because of the salary, but there may be other reasons that he is not sharing with you. In this case, a raise won’t necessarily create a happier worker. Also, if other employees find out that you’ve given this employee a raise, it might create an atmosphere of resentment. They might also learn that all they need to do is to threaten to leave in order to receive a raise – something totally counterproductive to a happy company culture. Moreover, finagling a raise might actually have been your employee’s plan all along – and someone who goes about it by threatening to leave may not be someone worth keeping on your staff.

Therefore, when someone cites money as the main reason for leaving, weigh all the factors involving losing this employee. For example, ask yourself how much time have you invested in him? Has she proven to be trustworthy (i.e., do you think she’s making excuses to get a raise, or is money really her concern?) Once you consider all these options, you can then make your move.

Bear in mind that every situation will be different – sometimes, you may decide that this employee is not worth losing, even if it means offering a raise. Other times, you may decide that if the employee really wants to leave, to just let him go. Whatever you decide, keep things in perspective and remember that poaching is part of business – so even though it is not an ideal situation, you will get through it, and so will your company.