New research shows 98 per cent of employers target candidates who aren’t actively seeking a new role. Here are four ways to poach-proof your talent.
As the war for top talent rages, many employers are going further than ever before to secure the skills they need.
According to research from recruitment agency Robert Half, 98 per cent of employers approach candidates who aren’t actively considering a new role when recruiting. That means almost every employer looks at not only those searching for a new role, but also talent residing in other organisations.
Talent poaching isn’t a new phenomenon – headhunting has been a common feature of the hiring practices for decades – but changes in the talent landscape and a hyper-focus on skills shortages have kicked the practice into overdrive.
“We are in a hiring market of extremely elevated demand,” says Nicole Gorton, Director at Robert Half, in a media release.
“The supply of talent to accommodate this demand simply isn’t there, so businesses across industries and sizes have been turning to the passive market as their first port of call.”
By injecting further competition into the hiring process, talent poaching sends a clear message to employees looking to retain their valuable talent – you need to make your employee experience too attractive to walk away from. Essentially, you need to make your teams poach-proof.
Here are four considerations when doing this.
1. Consider – but don’t rely on – counteroffers
Let’s say a star employee has revealed they’ve been offered an attractive new position at a slightly higher rate of pay somewhere else. Should their employer make a counteroffer and offer a pay rise – or added perks – of their own?
Gorton’s advice on this matter is clear.
“They’re not my favourite thing,” she told HRM. “If you can avoid them, do so.”
She questions whether employers should be in the situation where they’re considering counteroffers in the first place.
“What was it that you didn’t do before to keep your staff onside? What was it that you missed? Where did you fail?”
Making a counteroffer to one employee could have unintended consequences if the rest of your team perceives it unfairly – potentially damaging your relationship with your workers.
In other words, even if you financially reward one team member for not leaving the roost, an inequitable pay increase could leave other workers feeling overlooked.
“Companies … have to assume that every single one of their employees is getting tapped on the shoulder by a rival.” – Nicole Gorton, Robert Half
And yet, Gorton provides a caveat here: she herself has made counteroffers, as do many companies.
“There is a time and place for it, when you feel like it’s the right thing to do based on the information you have.
“But it’s also an opportunity to reflect and ask what could have been done differently to not be having the conversation at the eleventh hour.”
Advice for HR: Consider if there is equity and fairness across your remuneration and benefits packages for all workers.
2. Use no-poaching agreements with caution
One possible, although not necessarily advisable, avenue for preventing rivals from stealing your staff is to establish a no-poaching agreement.
Companies that enter into such an agreement make a pact not to poach from each other – but this could mean that employees themselves are more limited in their choices if they do decide to move to a competitor of their own volition.
Gorton says this might be more evident in certain specialised industries, but overall she isn’t convinced of their efficacy.
“In my opinion, it doesn’t work,” she says. “Because what can happen is an employer can say to a potential employee, ‘We can’t poach you, but you approach us.’”
Advice for HR: Take care with no-poaching agreements, whether signed or verbal.
3. Consider a non-compete clause
Companies might find more success with a different technique to poach prevention: non-compete clauses.
A non-compete agreement can limit a worker’s ability to start work at a competitor for a set period after leaving an organisation, and even from starting up their own business in the same industry.
Gorton points to the protection of intellectual property as an instance where non-compete clauses can be a valid course of action.
Read HRM’s article about protecting your company’s intellectual property.
“There are often industry bodies that will collectively get together,” she says. “They might have a verbal agreement not to poach each other’s staff.”
An employer would be within its right, she explains, to include a non-compete clause in its work contract in this instance, as it would prevent an employee from gaining the intellectual property in question before quitting and immediately shopping themselves around to rival employers.
Of course, former employees can’t be prevented from working indefinitely, and so a set timeframe, usually between three to 12 months, puts a cap on the arrangement.
Advice for HR: Writing a non-compete clause into an employee’s contract could come in handy in certain industries, but shouldn’t be your go-to option for retaining talent.
4. Prioritise retention of your existing employees
Ideally, however, no-poaching agreements and non-compete clauses are back-up options for retaining talent. The predicate of a poach-proof workforce is a happy workforce – and a more talented team.
Employers have been concerned about talent retention for a while, and with good reason. Almost one in 10 people changed jobs in the year ending February 2022, according to the latest ABS Job Mobility report.
This is why it’s essential to ensure organisations have the skills and capacity to accomplish the work they do.
Employers need to be proactive about retention, rather than reactive, because the latter probably means they’ve already lost the battle.
“There are a few things companies need to make sure they have in place,” says Gorton. “They have to assume that every single one of their employees is getting tapped on the shoulder by a rival.”
It’s all about pre-empting the situation and ensuring employees have fewer reasons to leave in the first place.
“People become loyal because they’re happy,” says Gorton. “The big one at the moment is that people want to know they have professional development opportunities. Career planning, upskilling, training and development lend themselves to career growth.”
All the usual options for upping retention are viable here – providing flexible work arrangements, bringing a personalised approach to employee engagement, providing meaningful benefits and incentives, and much more.
Advice for HR: Be attentive to your people. Create reasons for employees to stay and build their career at your company. Make retaining your current staff a priority.
Keeping your team onside can be tough but rewarding. Learn how to manage your talent – and reap the benefits – with this AHRI short course.