Contributed Column

Personnel Matters


by Dave Mount, Westaff

One of the regular readers of this column asked me recently, “What do you think when someone ‘steals’ an employee from another employer?”

That is a tricky subject for most employers. We do not want our employees to leave us, but we also want the “pick of the litter” for ourselves. Sometimes, that means going after already employed individuals.

Is “stealing” employees from other companies moral or ethical?

My answer is a qualified “yes.”

If the idea is to take an employee from a competitor and milk that employee dry of the competitor’s secret information, then I would suggest that there are some ethical challenges there. There are also legal challenges best described by an attorney, because courts have ruled that hiring someone for trade secrets may constitute illegal interference in a competitor’s business.

In 24 years, I have only once hired someone from a competitor, and then only after she had quit. That was 20 years ago. Since then, we have never had an employee leave our company to join a competitor, and we have never entertained the idea of hiring from one.

Non-competitors present a different story. You can bet that we would talk to people in other industries. We will seek out the best people in other companies that we know. If they are happy, they will simply smile and go on with what they are doing; but if they are unhappy, they will jump at the opportunity to become happy.

I have several thoughts about this.

Employees don’t leave if they are happy.

I have been in the business of employing people for a long time. I have never had someone tell me that they are happy with a job but want to leave. Sometimes the grass is greener and someone who is perfectly happy will consider another option just to see what is out there, but the vast majority of people who want to make a change are unhappy about something.

For many years, pay was considered the main culprit. Recent research, however, has indicated that pay is no longer at the top of the list of why people leave jobs. They move, studies found, because of benefits, personalities, work conditions, and the really big one — their supervisors.

Some of these things are within our control and some are not. Anything we can change to become a better employer, we should change. We probably can’t transform our personalities, company benefits and salaries, but we can adjust work conditions; and by having a dialog with our employees, we can change the supervisor.

I once left a job because my boss would not make decisions. I became frustrated at making recommendations on problems and offering solutions and then having nothing happen. I concluded that he would not change, so I did — I changed jobs.

What frustrates your employees?

These frustrations are going to be the reasons why they leave. Are they trained properly? Are they treated respectfully by people in the company? Most important, are they treated respectfully by their supervisors?

Employees want to be treated with respect more than anything else. They do not need a boss who spends a lot of time yelling at employees or who spends a lot of time on personal projects while leaving all the work to the staff. Employees want to like and respect the boss.

One of the most important qualities an employer can have is empathy. Bosses need more than anything to “walk a mile in their moccasins.” Employees like working for people who know what they are doing — people who have done the other jobs in a company, who understand the problems their employees have and then take on some of the burden.

Let’s face it — when that burden is shared, everybody sleeps better at night.

Dave Mount is the owner of Westaff in Burlington.

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