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Obliged to stay put?

High financial services staff turnover is such a problem in Singapore that there are rumours legislation may be introduced against it.

"The trouble is that, as Asia becomes bigger, the talent pool becomes thinner, creating a very competitive environment for expertise," says Chia Tek-Yew, financial services industry partner at Heidrick & Struggles in Singapore. "At the moment banks are finding it hard to control the situation."

The two principle recourses banks have to hold onto employees are the famous "gardening leave" clause, preventing a senior manager from working for six months after resigning, and the non-solicitation covenant to prevent employees from jumping ship in droves.

But, generally speaking, restrictive covenants are hard to enforce, says an employment lawyer based in Singapore. "There's so many tricks to get around them and firms rarely want the embarrassment of a legal dispute," she says.

Not so in the instance of interdealer brokers Tullett Prebon, which has been fighting a court battle with smaller rival BGC Partners over a staffing skirmish in Singapore. Prebon wants to recover damages from BGC arising from the defections last year of 55 staff to the US company.

"Regulators here are quite embarrassed by the BGC case," says one headhunter who did not want to be named. "There are rumours that they are considering guidelines that will make it harder for employees to leave one firm for another."

This is likely to come as bad news to anyone hoping to job hop and cash in on the current boom. But Tek-Yew says the whispering is unfounded: "I haven't heard such rumours and it would be very strange. After all this is a free market."

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