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Would You Let Your Employees Job Hunt?

Employers should relax their grip on their talent every three years, giving employees a significant break to reset expectations, argues one human relations expert.
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Your employees are your greatest asset. Plus, hiring is an expensive hassle, so of course you do everything in your power to make sure your team sticks around for as long as possible. That makes perfect sense on the surface, but one HR pro suggests your tight embrace of your employees may actually not be in your best interest, at least not if you keep it up indefinitely.

Better to give your team a little periodic breathing room, Andy Porter, VP of HR at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, recently opined on recruiting blog Fistful of Talent. What does that mean in practice? Giving your employees a "free agency period" every three years in which you allow or even encourage them to get out there and see what's available in the wider job market.

Are you insane, you might reply to Porter. But he's ready to reply to the skepticism of bosses. "Right about now some of you probably think this is a stupid idea--why in the world would a company want to encourage an employee to look elsewhere?" writes Porter. "Well, first off, I have a news flash for you--your employees are already looking for new jobs from time to time, just under the radar and with none of the potential benefits of an 'open' process," he answers.

It's not just simply that your employees will look anyway that motivates Porter's suggestion though. He also feels that having a thorough knowledge of what else is out there (or the relative lack thereof) makes for better employees. He offers three reasons, all from the perspective of the employee but which clearly show why business owners might want to get on board with the idea as well:

Your Current Job May Begin to Look Much Better. All of us have complained about our current jobs at different times--too much of this, not enough of that, or I'm ready for something more.  But the funny thing is once you go out and interview with another company you’ll often view you current job in a whole new (often positive light).  Turns out the grass isn’t always greener.

Your Skills Have Changed.  Three years is enough time for an employee to have learned and mastered a new set of skills. In fact, depending on your industry, three years of experience can have a significant positive impact on your compensation. Marketable skills = more $. On the other hand, if an employee’s skills have declined or haven’t kept pace with new advances in the marketplace, a company should have the right to adjust compensation accordingly.

Motivation. If an employee knows that every three years they’ll have an opportunity to test the market value of their skills there’s a higher likelihood they’ll make the investment to learn something new. This goes both ways--if a company knows that it runs the risk of losing top talent every three years I’d be willing to bet they would make a greater investment in professional development.

The idea of a free agency period every three years might sound strange to the cool, controlled logic of business, but people aren't simply logical creatures. We're often ruled by our emotions, and given this reality, Porter's proposal makes some sense. We have a tendency to romanticize what we see from a distance. We get in ruts. We fail to see the value of those around us. Over time, we take situations and people for granted and our level of effort slips (just ask marriage counselors). By regularly injecting uncertainty in the relationship between employer and employee, aren't we more likely to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the connection with fresh eyes and try harder to maintain it?

Do you think Porter's proposal has merit? 

 

Last updated: May 24, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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