Survey: Recruiters Expect Increase in Tech Talent Poaching

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Companies are aware of it, they’re afraid of it, and they’re scrambling to figure out what to do about the poaching of their top technology workers.

Talent poaching occurs when one company snags a rival’s top staffers with the lure of higher salaries, better benefits or other perks, according to a recent survey by tech employment website Dice.com.

With firms using stealth to contact passive candidates, usually via e-mail or LinkedIn, poaching has become a weapon of war on the human resource landscape.

“We really uncovered that the fear of poaching is really a big concern across the board in this study. People are really concerned about how to hold onto their employees,” said Alice Hill, managing director at Dice, headquartered in Urbandale, Iowa.

In Dice’s recent e-mail survey of 2,697 hiring managers, 54 percent said they expect poaching to become more aggressive in 2011 compared with 2010.

About 28 percent of those who responded were from technology firms; 17 percent were from staffing and recruitment companies.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that poaching in the tech field is an epidemic.

According to the magazine, in early March 2011 social gaming company Zynga snagged Neil Roseman, an engineer with Amazon.com, after asking one of Roseman’s former colleagues to reach out to him.

Douglas J. Matthews, president and chief operating officer of Philadelphia-based Right Management, predicted that in 2011, growth-oriented firms will need to work harder to prevent poaching and retain top talent.

But while hiring managers in the Dice.com survey appeared fully aware of poaching and were concerned about it, few seemed to be positioned to fight it.

More than half, or 54 percent, said they had not assessed technology staffers who might be ripe for poaching. When they examined what they were offering to retain at-risk employees, higher salary was third on the list. The most popular response was flexible work hours.

Because of the recent recession, experts say, most companies haven’t been able to offer employees additional compensation to stay in their positions. But Hill said that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Studies have shown that more money isn’t a necessity for job satisfaction, she explained.

“A lot of people will take a flat salary or maybe a chance to jump to another company,” Hill said. “They’ll stay on if they have more flexibility around [work hours] or you give them a really juicy project. Those things really do help with retention.”

A challenging, interesting assignment can be as much of a lure as a boost in salary, Hill said.

“People need to feel like they’re getting a chance to grow their skills,” she added. “Sometimes, these are the easiest and cheapest things to do, but they often fall by the wayside.”

Experts advise companies consider asking employees to enter into noncompete agreements or work with their legal counsel to figure out the best ways to prevent poaching.

Dice is “sympathetic” to the challenge presented to firms in the rebounding economy, Hill said. “When you have a recovery, you also have a lot of risk in how you hold on to your people.”

Melanie Eversley is a freelance writer based in Md.