A Case for Employee Poaching

A Case for Employee Poaching


When I left my government job many, many years ago I didn’t look back for a second. I remained friends with about five people who were not as crazy as the rest of the group.  That government office was an even more apathetic version of the movie workplace in Office Space. If I were to tell you all what truly happened in that government workplace, you would demand a new Boston Tea Party endeavor. Thus, when I finally became a boss at a different place, I for not one millisecond ever thought of reaching out to my past colleagues to see if they would be interested in any of my open positions. It just never crossed my mind


I have seen such scenes play out in television shows. Usually, the scene is played out in a Wall Street shark-like type of action. Apparently, it may be a bit of bad form to “poach” former employees.  Some individuals may even view it as unethical. However, is it really?


The main impetus for employee poaching will determine how the whole scene plays out in everyone’s mind.  Now, mind you there are at times those situations where employees upon hire sign non-compete clauses which would then preclude them from being poached. I am not talking about those types of employees. In non-profits, it seems that the universe is super tiny and everyone has worked at every other non-profit in that particular field. In the HIV field, there are times when employees are working at two different non-profits simultaneously. The field is often referred to as being worker incestuous.  In way then it is not technically employee poaching since everyone works for everyone in that field.


Nonetheless, hard feelings do ensue when one top employee moves onto another agency.  I recently witnessed the craziness of “hurt ego” when a favored employee (who didn’t exactly feel favored) moved on to the hot new agency on the scene. It was seen as downright betrayal on part of the employee and not so much as employee poaching. Yet, it does make collaborations and partnerships between those two agencies a tiny bit awkward.


Despite all this there is still a case to be made for employee poaching.  If you need a particular skill set at your agency and you know for sure that a particular individual has it, why should you not make an overture?  It is a win for the employee to be sought after. What they do with that overture is up to them. Shouldn’t we be treating employees as adults anyway?  In particular, think about whether you are offering  recognition and a possible leadership role. In that vein, you are offering up  a possible sense of excitement about a new opportunity.  Thus, that overture can be psychologically uplifting. Take the overture even further. Imagine you know that they are currently not growing any further at their current place.  By reaching out to them you are doing a good deed. You are helping to lift them out. It could be equated with a helicopter rescue mission to someone dangling from a mountain top. Another thought on the matter is that employers should be doing all they can to keep their employees from potentially being poached. If more than one employee is open to being poached you have a problem. If you have five or more that are so open, you may be running a sinking ship. In such a situation the poacher is just extending a life jacket.


As with everything in life, the ethics of employee poaching is all about context. As long as it is about creating a win-win situation and not about malice or bad will, it is a go in my view.  My main question is whether there is a maximum number of employees that can be poached at one time. I know that one poached employee should not be seen as bad form. Poaching three employees may be pushing it too far and may be too big a move that is ripe for failure. Know the limits of the situation and make sure you understand the needs of those being poached. And remember if you work in what is ostensibly a small field, work out the motions in a fairly transparent and fair way. At the end of the day, the workforce is a workforce and not property of a particular company.  Sometimes, in running an organization you have to check your ego at the door.


Be well…




2 replies »

  1. Oh I think employee poaching is perfectly legit.
    I recall a former hairstylist who left her place of employment to create her own business. I do recall FOUR who followed her, most of whom took their clients with them. I wouldn’t say she poached, I’d say the grass really was greener on her side of the fence 😉


  2. I think poaching goes on in many different fields and at many different levels. In this day and age, it appears to me that there are not many companies/corporations/agencies i.e. employers in general, who treat their employees like human beings at all, or offer them any value or recognition in any way. I have more often seen employers pit employees against each other in this regard.

    For you as an employer, it may be that the devil i.e. poaching target you know, is better than the devil you don’t. For me as a recent employee, as well as for many of my former colleagues, the devil/employer we knew seemed more often to be better than the devil we didn’t. Fortuitously for some, after they were laid-off by the devil/employer we all knew, they are now more happily employed by previously unknown devils.

    Bottom line is that all parties involved in this type of transaction will evaluate the situation and do what is best for their own self-interest. I think that is understood and no enmity should exist upon completion of transaction.


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