Spotlight on: employee gazumping

Gazumping is a term usually associated with the property industry – where the seller has accepted your offer, but then takes a higher one – but is now recognised among HR professionals as a growing problem.

You think you’ve brought the right person on board, only for their previous employer to lure them back with the offer of more money and status.

Luring back

Mark Channon, operations director of financial recruitment specialists Hewitson Walker, explains: “Gazumping is happening particularly at junior and middle levels. In most cases, the gazumper is the candidate’s existing employer – after all, they are the people who stand to suffer the most disruption if the employee leaves.”

One unnamed manager in the retail sector says she felt cheated when a new employee was approached by her former employer and abruptly left six weeks after joining. “During the interview process, I should have questioned her motives and asked more social and cultural questions to test her commitment,” she says.

Managing the recruitment and integration process closely is crucial if you want to avoid being gazumped, argues Channon.

“It’s easy to put on rose-tinted glasses and accept all the positive things that a potential employee tells you during an interview. Find out what’s wrong with the role or the environment they are currently in, and what they would do if a better paying role were to come up during their probation period – then look them square in the eye,” he says.

Ask candidates what stage they are currently at in the job application process, advises David Winterburn of the Association of Executive Recruiters. It is a warning sign for the employer if they have several applications outstanding.

Limit the risk

There are further steps an employer can take to reduce the risk.

Winterburn says that too many organisations offer a candidate a contract, and then don’t speak to them again until they actually join, for example.

“Treat the candidate as if they have already started to establish the necessary levels of loyalty and motivation,” he says. “Phone them regularly, bring them into meetings, or take them for drinks.”

Salary is also one of the main factors for employee gazumping, according to Adrian Hitchenor, chief executive officer of search firm Hitchenor Wakeford.

Question the candidate before an offer is made by asking them upfront if they would be interested in accepting the position, and whether the terms on offer are acceptable.

Then, during the probationary period, employers need to make sure that a good induction programme is in place.

Hitchenor concludes: “A new employee needs to understand not only their own objectives and goals, but also the business strategy, and how they fit into this company culture.

“Job satisfaction is not only measured by salary, but by showing them a clear career development path, and fully integrating them into the team. This will give them less reason to leave as they will be happy in their new environment.”

Tips to avoid being gazumped

  • Insert a clause that prevents an employee working for a competitor or dealing with any of your customers for a fixed period of time after they have left your company.

  • Tie them in to a longer notice period.

  • Incentivise them with cash or benefits to stay – for example, offer new staff a bonus, pay rise or access to the company’s pension or medical insurance scheme.

Vicky Bennett, head of employment at law firm Heatons

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