Best Practices for Managing Brain Drain

November 14, 2018
Inside HR
Organization Development
Read time: 2 mins

Brain Drain - a term commonly used to describe how the knowledge of long-time employees disappears when they leave or retire. With layoffs, reductions in force (RIF), and many jobs becoming automated, intellectual property in companies can wash away quickly.

Organizations need a plan to save this vital information before it’s gone. That plan begins with identifying what the critical knowledge is, who has it, and how to preserve and redistribute it effectively.

The following are best practices to preventing brain drain in an organization:

  1. Capture knowledge.
    Part of the solution is simply recording the information, whether that means placing it in a common file share or old-school folder and keeping it organized. It’s like that family recipe that no one can get quite right since grandma stopped making it. Write it down.
  2. Assess your workforce and encourage mentoring.
    Organizations should assess their workforce to identify who is moving up in the company (and telling them what they need to know) as well as who is ready to wrap it up (and acquiring what they need to share). Pairing a long-tenured employee (mentor) with another employee (mentee) allows experience and knowledge to be shared. Pass it on.
  3. Develop cross-functional teams.
    Using a mix of people from different areas in the company to work together on a project and problem solve a solution is an excellent way to share knowledge. This type of environment promotes sharing what people know and why. Together Everyone Achieves More.
  4. Promote a culture of sharing.
    We’ve been taught to share since we were little kids. But sometimes the adage "knowledge is power" rings through employees’ heads and they don’t want to share what they know for fear of losing that perceived power. Companies should cultivate a culture of sharing what has been learned along the way, and reward those that do it. Sharing is caring.
  5. Offer pre-retire and un-retire options.
    Reach out to treasured retired staff and ask them to consider coming in on a part-time basis to work (and share their knowledge). Or offer part-time positions to those who are planning to retire. Both options are great for the company and can ease the transition of your seasoned employees. Offer it up.

Hang on to the knowledge that your company has worked so hard to secure with a plan that will survive through departures and retirements. Brain drain is a common issue, but it doesn’t have to be if you take the right steps.

Source: Lynell Meeth, MSHR, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Director, Member Content, MRA - The Management Association