Is Poaching Employees Ethical?

Danny Kellman

In highly competitive markets, it’s become the norm for companies to eye the best talents from rival organizations. The debate over whether employee poaching is ethical continues to rage—and a company’s stance largely depends on which side of the fence it finds itself on.

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Downsides of poaching

There is a thin line that separates aggressive hiring from poaching. Poaching is when you are adamant about hiring an employee at a competitor who has not expressly shown an interest in joining your organization. Encouraging employees to leave their current job and defect to your company may help you get good talent, but it may also prove to be disadvantageous in the long term. The poached employee may gain a poor reputation as someone who may quit his or her current position easily and is vulnerable to poaching. And if you’re the one who did the poaching, you risk losing the respect of your competitors.

Keep it ethical

This does not mean you should not look for good candidates from other organizations; you just need to be ethical. Your organization should set some boundaries, and use the same set of standard practices across the board. There are organizations who feel it is wrong to ‘steal’ an employee from another organization, but have no qualms hiring a recruiting agency to do so. What’s acceptable and what’s not needs to be decided by the organization beforehand as part of a comprehensive recruitment policy.

Referrals and poaching: What’s the difference?

So, how different is poaching from an employee referral system? In the latter scenario, you are also asking someone working in another organization if he or she is interested in an opening. The difference is that in an employee referral system, it is an employee who is speaking on behalf of the employer. The employee cannot dangle the carrot of huge salaries. There is no guarantee that a candidate referred by an employee will be hired by the company. The employee has no authority to bargain, and the final call is made by an employer. If this is not the case, and the employer is influencing an employee to convince a candidate from another company, then it is again poaching.

The motive in poaching is to kill the competition, and render the other organization weak and ineffective. Employee referrals, when done right, operate within the framework of established relationships. An employee asking a good friend or former colleague is considered ethical by most companies.

The employee referral method is more ethical than using recruiting agencies with bad value systems. In you plan to use an agency, you should make sure you use an organization that utilizes ethical standards in line with your own policies. Find out what strategies they use in recruiting potential hires and how they screen employees before hiring them. When a company is pursuing a great candidate, it presents its most impressive side, but a company should not forget to make sure that the candidate is the right fit for the job description on hand. There’s no point having a great candidate who is not fit for a specific role.

Acquiring new talent

Employers and recruiters know that it is not always about the money. Great candidates need great opportunities. They seek recognition and leadership roles, and a sense of excitement about a new opportunity. Employers typically offer these apart from money to acquire new talent. They identify what the candidate missed at the earlier company and seek to compensate for it. Recruiters often give real examples of employees in similar situations of the candidates who are now doing very well. Instead of just giving a job description, there are testimonials, videos and the company’s culture all listed out to draw the candidate’s attention.

Retaining talent

When it comes to protecting employees from potential poachers, employers should take care to keep their best talent happy. Managers and their teams should be rewarded if they retain good employees. Keep track of recruits who have patterns of quitting and take pre-emptive action. Employees need to be motivated both monetarily and non-monetarily, and benefits such as flexible working hours or vacations and work-from-home options help to retain staff. More importantly, the employee needs to be given work that is fulfilling and exciting; stagnation is a big no-no.

Over to You

Do you believe that poaching employees is ethical?

Danny Kellman manages the Pre-Employment HR Metrics, Project Management and Sales team at The Human Capital Centre of Expertise (HUCACE), pronounced "UKC." Danny is a strategic HR professional and consultant with over 10 years experience in different HR functions – blending and leveraging the right amount of science, technology and emotional intelligence into efficient and effective recruitment strategies for global based brands. In providing powerful scientific insight, HUCACE helps HR professionals making informed decisions at the hiring stage.