If you can sell footballers, why can’t I sell my employees?
Selling an employee only really happens in a handful of professional sports. When the transfer window is open, clubs who possess desirable players receive bids for that player. If the club is happy with the bid, they allow the bidder to talk to the player to try and agree personal terms. Sometimes managers fall out with players, or players go on strike, which force the club to sell the player to stop them ‘toxifying’ the workplace.
Yet selling an employee doesn’t happen in ‘normal business’, unfortunately. But why not? Imagine a world where you could trade employees like football stars; where you are free to dispose of poor performers to some backwater club in the lower leagues. Or possibly trade in high performers who are getting above their station. All for financial gain!
The reason you don’t sell employees is because it is easier for businesses to approach desirable employees direct. It is more cost effective for the company who wants the employee (this approach is not generally permitted with sporting clubs. For example, the English FA and FIFA Regulations prohibit ‘tapping up’ of football players, that is a club approaching a player directly without informing the club the player is registered with) to ask them directly if they are interested, after which the discussion will probably move onto contract terms without their present employer ever getting involved. If the employee accepts, they will resign and move to their new job without any compensation,
Employees are not commodities or assets to be disposed of when the employer receives a satisfactory bid.
In the majority of businesses, employees, in monetary terms, have relatively little value to the employer. I say this in terms of value of selling the employee – it just doesn’t really happen. Of course, employees have value in the way they add value to their business of employment. For example you could put a figure on a salesman who costs you £50k in salary per annum but brings revenue into the business of £100k each year. There is tangible worth there. Nevertheless you can’t ask your competitor if they want this salesman for a fee.
If a large supermarket chain has an employee who is valuable then they will want to retain them. Should a competitor in the supermarket or retail sector want to poach that valuable member of staff they do not ordinarily approach the employer first. Headhunting is relatively common for valuable employees but this involves the prospective employer approaching the employee direct. The employer of the valuable employee would really only find out about the poaching when the employee tenders their resignation.
There is an employment spin on ‘selling’ and ‘buying’ employees when a business takes over a contract that another company has lost in a tender, for example. However, in this situation the business has little discretion as to which employees they are acquiring – they will acquire those that are assigned to the contract immediately before the transfer. I am of course referring to a Transfer of Undertaking Protection of Employment Regulations (TUPE) transfer.
Unfortunately though you can’t sell your employees. If a business does want to sell an employee, then they will be asked why and generally they will only want to sell a poor performing employee where there will be few buyers! Personally I would advise the employer to look at performance management with the employee in question.
PS: If you are thinking about putting a compensation clause in to the contract that forces the employee to pay you a large fee should they be poached/leave the business, then think again, the clause will be unenforceable. You cannot hold employees to ransom: it is an unfair contract term and an unenforceable penalty clause. For the more important employees you can contractually ask them for a lengthy notice period: it doesn’t stop them from leaving but does allow you to plan how you will replace the employee should they decide to leave.