Why Your Company Should Adopt a Free Agency Period

If I decided tomorrow that I wanted to explore new job opportunities, I’d have to set up the equivalent of a Navy SEAL, top-secret military operation, so that my current employer wouldn’t know what I was up to.  And I would bet I’m not the only one – I think most of us would prefer NOT to have our current employer know that we’re out there “looking.”  I think we should shed the secrecy and as organizations take it even one step further:

Make all of your employees eligible for to become free agents every three years.

Allowing your employees to become free agents (and in fact, forcing them to become free agents) has several possible outcomes:

  • the employee shops their skills around to competitor organizations to get a true sense of their value
  • the employee negotiates a new (better) deal with their current company and agrees to stay
  • the employee finds themselves a better deal and jumps to a new company
  • an employer has the opportunity not to “re-sign” a particular employee

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?  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.  Here’s why I think creating a free agency period could be important:

  • 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.

Now of course, most of us probably wouldn’t be able to implement such a policy at our companies but the point of the post is this:  transparent choice.  Whenever possible, create an environment where you talk about employment choices with your employees and be honest about what needs to change (on both sides) for the partnership to continue.  In my opinion, it’s better to be up front than to find out later when it’s too late.

FOT Background Check

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.


  1. Tracy Tran says:

    I love this idea. I would add that companies establish a “negotiation” period where 6 months before their contract ends, employer and employee can discuss what’s best from them. As you mention, this is where people can “re-sign” or cut them. I would also use the “negotiation” period to help the employee find their next stop if you don’t renew their contract. Employees will do their own job search, but employers can help them as well, albeit in a different sector. You still want good will when people leave and that has a lasting image.

  2. Steve Guine says:

    The concept sounds good, however human nature (on both sides) gets in the way.

    Great employees already enjoy free agency. It’s those employees who refuse to develop new skills (and those employers who wont send their employees for training) which causes the challenges of free agency.

  3. Sounds like a great idea–when the job market improves!

  4. Absolutely love it….sign me up to help implement!

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