The Great Resignation’s Brain Drain Crisis Creates an Opportunity for Associations

Some of you joined the Great Resignation and found a better job. Some of you have bigger workloads after colleagues quit—and then the brain drain continues when the ones left behind have had enough and bail out too.

Your association might be dealing with brain drain fallout and your members might be feeling it too. But a crisis like this presents an opportunity. What can you do to help minimize the negative impact of an industry brain drain on your members—and help your association at the same time?

Causes of the brain drain

The pandemic shook everyone up. Many professionals reconsidered what they value in life and work—what they want in a job and what they don’t want.

Now they’re looking for better working conditions. They want a better boss. They want to continue working remotely. Or they want to return to an office. They want more schedule flexibility, clearer boundaries, and better work/life balance. They’re seeking better pay or benefits, perhaps more vacation or more support for professional development.

Some of the brain drain is inevitable. 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the U.S. The “gray tsunami” is rolling through many companies as Boomers retire.

Impact of the brain drain

Replacing employees in this job market is challenging and expensive. Recruiting and training eat up resources. Compound that with a loss of productivity, the toll it takes on customer service, and the mental costs for employees who have to take on extra work.

When an employee quits, the company loses:

•    Their soft and hard skills, including software expertise
•    Their institutional knowledge
•    Access to their relationships and network

brain drain

How your association can help employers prevent or manage a brain drain

For your industry to get a handle on the brain drain issue, everyone needs to understand the extent of the problem. By conducting an industry employee survey, you can provide employers the benchmarking data they need to stay competitive in the talent marketplace—an incredibly valuable member benefit.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found out just how severe the employment crisis was in their industry when the results came in from their employee retention survey. They asked questions about the:

•    Likelihood of employees leaving their job in the next year
•    Reasons they’re seeking new work
•    Their satisfaction with different benefits
•    Managerial challenges
•    What employers can do to increase retention and improve the workplace

Association education programs can help employers attract and retain talent

Across all generations, people view an employer's professional development offerings as important considerations when accepting a new job.
•    79% of Boomers and Gen X
•    84% of Millennials
•    70% of Gen Z

Yet, the American Staffing Association (ASA) learned that only 39% of workers say their employer is helping them improve their skills or gain new ones. 61% said the opportunity to learn new skills was an important reason to stay with an employer.

This mismatch between what jobseekers and employees want and what employers provide presents an opportunity for your association. ASA pointed out the problem for many employers: “Training and career development are not core competencies within most organizations.” But they are for your association.

Your professional development programs can help employers prevent brain drain and attract new talent. But first employers must be made aware of the way out of the crisis they’re facing. Until they realize they have a problem and see your association as the solution, they won’t pay for employees to attend your programs.

You can’t just promote your programs. You have to promote professional development as an employee recruitment and retention solution. Educate member companies on the benefits of fostering a learning culture. They need to know that professional development should be accessible to all employees, not just a select few. Time off and a budget for learning should be the default, because learning is a required activity, not optional.

Cultivate relationships with the HR and L&D teams at member companies. Keep them updated on your programs and learning paths. Learn about the skills/competencies most in demand. Offer assessments to identify skills gaps. Recruit learning ambassadors within companies who promote your programs in exchange for deep discounts.

Encourage companies to license your programs or purchase subscriptions. A partnership with your association will make it easier for their employees to take programs and managers to track their progress.

Bad bosses are one of the leading causes of the Great Resignation. Develop programs that teach people how to manage a hybrid or remote workforce. Include instruction on helping employees develop professional growth plans.

Beware the loss of software expertise

Members—and your association—must be proactive about the loss of software expertise when people quit. Get ahead of the situation by ensuring the IT team and system users discuss succession plans with software vendors. What happens when the person in charge of a system or a superuser leaves? Put money in the budget for training temporary and permanent replacements.

In a recent post about preparing for the unexpected, LMS consultant Craig Weiss recommends creating a guide (with print and digital copies) for each system that answers key questions.

brain drain

Preserve institutional knowledge

To minimize the disruption caused by departing employees, document standard operating procedures (SOPs). Although a time-consuming project, it pays off immensely when someone has to figure out how to do what a 15-year employee always took care of. The things people take for granted are the things that trip you up after someone departs.

Always do debriefs or retrospectives after a project is completed so you can capture best practices and lessons learned.

Keep relationships going

Hopefully, someone who gave notice is not spending their last two weeks writing those SOPs. Instead, they should be making introductions. What relationships are at risk of fading away when they leave? An association employee might have special relationships with:

•    Members
•    Vendors and consultants
•    Independent contractors
•    Counterparts at other organizations
•    Media contacts

Industry employers need to learn about relationships with:

•    Clients
•    Lead referral sources
•    Industry partners
•    Suppliers
•    Influencers

The brain drain’s impact on an organization’s relationships is another argument for association membership and participation. More than one employee should be involved in the association so their company can stay connected and known in the industry.

When you think about the impact of a brain drain on an organization, it sounds like a topic crying out for a webinar: how to avoid the pain of a brain drain. You can help members become more aware of the risks and teach them how to handle them when they arise. The more successful they are, the more likely they’ll continue to participate in your association programs.

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