Breakups are never easy, but when a top employee leaves, your business suffers. And that hurt is all the worse when they leave to join a rival company. All the time and money you spent hiring, training and growing that employee suddenly becomes a gift to your competition.

This is the side effect of a growing U.S. economy experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. The thirst for further growth has companies poaching talent.

The good thing is you know you're doing something right if your competition sees value in your employees. You just need to find out how to keep your employees from being tempted by the competition. Try these tips to prevent history from repeating itself.


1. Find your top performers

One reason Michael Jordan is regarded as arguably the best basketball player of all time is because of his lack of fear during crunch time. Winners want the ball during crunch time. Your top performers will have this same mentality. These are employees who want to be challenged and will often exceed expectations. Those are the people your competition wants.

There are a number of ways to determine who the "Michael Jordan" is on your team.

Start by finding a way to measure your employees' performance so you can set goals and expectations. This is especially helpful for new employees. These metrics will help you give your employees clear direction and ensure their work stays on track.

Take advantage of performance reviews to see where your employees are going above and beyond, and where their weaknesses are.

If necessary, look past money and numbers to find out who is trying to excel. For example, information technology (IT)-based jobs can be difficult to measure. Consider productivity-based metrics that focus on your employees' ability to meet deadlines.

High performers want to expand their skill set. Find or become a mentor who is a trusted source for employees to ask questions and receive knowledge. Give employees an opportunity to lead a project. Encourage them to attend classes, webinars and conventions. These are viable methods for employees to expand their knowledge and gain experience.

One way to filter out your top performers is to let go of employees who have already checked out. Some companies are offering unhappy employees a "pay-to-quit" bonus. This is based on the philosophy that employees' happiness is correlated to the success of the company.

2. Make your workplace flexible

Your employees are human. They have personal lives outside of work. Giving employees flexibility with their schedules can be a helpful way to retain talent.

An estimated 13.4 million U.S. employees work from home at least once a week, according to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau. A policy that allows for remote working will not only give your employees a break from the office, but it also saves them time and gas money.

This simple perk can be a big incentive for your employees to stay.

3. Check out the competition

You know the old saying, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." By keeping tabs on competition, you'll have an edge when it comes to retaining and recruiting top talent.

Take advantage of job websites such as Glassdoor or LinkedIn to find out how your competition stacks up when it comes to compensation, benefits and culture. Use this as a comparison to your own offerings. If you meet or beat the criteria, then it should increase your chances of retaining and attracting talent.

4. Communicate

Take note of your employees' achievements. One of the easiest ways to keep employees happy is to let them know that their accomplishments are being noticed. Don't wait for their annual performance review.

Consider asking employees how they like to be rewarded. They may just be looking for a pat on the back. You might be surprised which methods they find most appealing. An occasional simple form of recognition like this could be all that's needed to keep employees motivated.

5. Compensate appropriately

Performance bonuses are common in professional sports. For example, Indiana Pacers guard Paul George received a $7 million bonus when he achieved the honor of being selected to the All-NBA team in 2014. While you might not have a few million lying around to reward employees, you can likely find ways to financially reward better performance.

Consider performance-based incentives that give your employees a chance to earn more money. After all, who doesn't appreciate the opportunity to earn a bigger paycheck? Plus, it's extra income you don't have to find in your budget. They'll bring it in themselves.

Outside of health care insurance, research ways to offer your employees a wider variety of benefits. This could include investments, such as stock options and 401(k) retirement plans.

If your business resides where a majority of your employees use public transportation, consider offering commuter assistance. Award an adequate amount of vacation time, and consider educational assistance which can help employees expand their skill sets.

6. Offer workplace amenities

Simple niceties, such as free coffee, can go a long way when it comes to making your employees happy and boosting productivity. In fact, more than two in five employees say they're less productive without coffee, according to CareerBuilder.

You should also consider your employees' workspace. Do you provide comfortable place for them to work? Can they easily communicate with their coworkers? Are there any tools, equipment, software or resources that could make their job easier? These simple gestures can help you win your employees loyalty.

7. Avoid new job titles

Some employers see job title changes as a cost-efficient way to retain employees and boost morale. But in a 2013 CareerBuilder study, nearly half of employers (47 percent) reported that they usually or always hire candidates who have held the same job title as the position for which they're hiring.

So, giving your employees common job titles makes them an easy target for hiring managers or recruiters who work for your competition. Businesses such as Zappos and Sun Hydraulics go so far as to not even use job titles.

While this may keep your competition from poaching your talent, your employees might not be too thrilled about the idea of a title-less position. Be sure to talk to them, and weigh the pros and cons before doing away with job titles.

8. Consider non-compete agreements

If you have employees who have access to sensitive information on a consistent basis, their departure could lead to damaging consequences. If this is a concern, then a non-compete agreement could be a good way to protect your company.

The effectiveness of these types of agreements varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, for instance, politicians have feuded over the idea of outlawing non-compete contracts altogether.

And, if your employees don't have access to vital information, then a non-compete agreement could open yourself up to public criticism. This was the case when an employee of New Jersey-based sandwich maker Jimmy John's posted the company's non-compete agreement, which outlawed employees from joining competing similar companies.

You also have to consider if a non-compete contract requirement will push away potential talent.

Some might see them as intimidating.

Remember that most non-compete agreements have time constraints that eventually expire. You also have to consider the costs if you were to pursue a lawsuit.

9. Conduct an exit interview

Not all employers take advantage of exit interviews. But they could be your best opportunity to receive raw, honest responses from employees before their departure about why they're leaving. They may tell you why they found your competition more appealing and how you can prevent the departure of further employees.

Make it clear that you're there to listen to their experiences, feelings and judgments. Reassure employees that their feedback will not result in any negative consequences. Avoid getting defensive, even if you hear something with which you disagree. Remember that they're doing you a favor by giving you advice.

10. Keep the door open

While it's easy to be bitter about your employees' exit, it's important to make their departure a positive experience. Focus on their contributions to the company and goals they've met. Encourage them to touch base periodically with their new venture.

Remember that there's always a chance an employee could return to your company in the future. Moreover, you don't want a disgruntled ex-employees spreading their negativity to other potential candidates or posting negative reviews about your company online.


So, are you doing enough to attract and retain top talent? For more tips, download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.