The Ethics of Recruiting & Employee Retention

The 2019 season of Alliance programming kicked off this week with the Spring Ethics Luncheon, where panelists discussed the ethical recruitment and retention of employees. 

Audience members heard real-life stories of what is commonly referred to as “poaching”—when a competitor targets employees at your company in an attempt to hire them. One panelist described a scenario in which nearly half a dozen of his employees were cold recruited by the same competing company, costing his own small business valuable talent and resources. 

Is such a thing ethical? On the one hand, employees should have the freedom to entertain competing offers and alternative opportunities. On the other, employers who lose talent to this practice are often left scrambling to fill organizational gaps and worrying about whether trade secrets will be shared with competitors. Where is the line? 

And how can a company that has experienced this kind of talent loss cope and even recover? Panelists and audience members shared innovative ideas:

  • Be intentional and proactive. Talk to employees about the possibility of cold recruiting from competitors and how you’d like them to handle it. Will you have an open-door policy for employees to discuss these offers with you? Create a culture in which employees won’t feel the need to be secretive about their own opportunities. 

  • Rethink non-compete clauses. The state of Nebraska has expressed hesitance in enforcing agreements in which employees promise not to work for competing entities for a period of time after separation from their employer. Consider other kinds of protective policies like non-solicitation and confidentiality agreements. And if you’ve hired talent from a competitor, be sure to ask if they are subject to any restrictive covenants. 

  • Focus on retaining and engaging employees. Make your goal to turn your workforce into your fanbase—if employees are happy, they’ll be less likely to leave even with other offers on the table. That could mean increasing salaries or perks, providing more development opportunities, and maintaining an ethical management style and philosophy. 

  • Build your bench. If you experience a sudden loss of talent, it will be comforting to know that you have a pipeline of skilled candidates who already have an eye on your business. That includes communicating thoughtfully with candidates who don’t progress in the hiring process. Have a plan in place so you don’t end up “ghosting” those you don’t hire.

  • Off-board departing employees positively and respectfully. Harboring any ill will for an employee who has decided to separate from the organization will only hurt your reputation as an employer and create a tense working environment for those who still work with you. This will also lay the groundwork for a departing employee to maybe even return to the organization in the future. 

  • Turn your attention to those who have stayed. Losing a teammate is difficult for coworkers, so be mindful of the culture work required to mitigate that stress—and even “turnover contagion.” Consider conducting “stay interviews” to assess what that culture work will need to include. 

Further Reading

Why Are Your Employees Quitting?

When an Employee Quits and You Didn’t See It Coming

When the Competition is Trying to Poach Your Top Employee

Is Quitting Contagious?

The Right Way to Off-Board a Departing Employee

How to Revitalize Morale After a Period of High Staff Turnover

These Five Recruiting Trends Are Flying Under the Radar

Do Recruiters Need a Code of Ethics?

Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals Code of Recruiting Integrity

National Association of Executive Recruiters Code of Ethics