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How to Prevent ‘Brain Drain’ When Key Employees Leave

January 13, 2020

By Leah Davis, CPA

It’s no secret that the baby-boomer retirement wave is coming. In some organizations and local governments, it’s already washing ashore. What’s more, the increased mobility of today’s workforce means employees aren’t staying in one job for as long as they did 20 years ago. The impending mass exodus and ever-changing tide of resources present a serious predicament: Organizations must be able to preserve precious institutional knowledge throughout these shifts.

With planning and foresight, it’s possible to keep your organization’s brainpower intact, regardless of your employee roster. Here’s how you can prevent “brain drain” when key employees retire or leave.

1. Identify individuals in key positions and their replacements.

Take a moment to list out the individuals who hold key roles within your organization. Do this for all key individuals—not only the ones who are retiring in the near future. Then, determine if you have individuals in-house who have the potential to step into each key individual’s role if necessary.

2. Make training part of key individuals’ to-do lists.

Training their replacements should be a formal job requirement for all key individuals. Although training needs will vary from department to department, key individuals should involve their trainee in day-to-day tasks to create opportunities for exposure and experience. Consider holding key individuals accountable to this requirement through performance evaluations.

To prevent tenured employees from feeling threatened, make sure they know training is necessary for the health of the organization—and not just to benefit the replacement. Additionally, key individuals should understand that not having someone who can do their job could prohibit them from advancing into a new role or taking extended time off without worry.

3. Be intentional about succession planning.

Don’t be afraid to call it what it is: planning for a future that doesn’t include soon-to-be-retiring individuals. Help these employees understand that things will change—that their replacement might not do things the same way they do, and that’s OK. Acknowledge they might not have the energy for change. Explain any leadership changes in a respectful, compassionate manner: “We’re going to let your replacement quarterback this initiative, but your knowledge and expertise are invaluable to its success.”

4. Consider phased-out retirement for certain key positions.

To ease the transition for all, consider offering certain key positions a phased-out retirement. For example, this might involve contracting a retired employee for 10 hours a week over the course of six months. A phased-out retirement might not work for everyone, especially for those who find it difficult to let go of the reins.

The Silver Lining: A Wave of Fresh Ideas

Although preventing “brain drain” may sound like a daunting challenge, it also represents a great opportunity. This is your chance to step back, look at how and why your organization has been doing things, and invite new perspectives. To help you make the most of this transitional time, our HR & Payroll Solutions team can provide both tactical and strategic support. We can work with your leadership to develop formal training and succession planning, or we can even come alongside employees who are new to a position, guide them in achieving the outcomes they want, and help their fresh ideas take hold. Let us know how we can best support your organization today.

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