The Great Resignation: How to Combat the Knowledge Drain Effect

One of the greatest threats is not only the risk of losing good talent and productivity, but also the valuable knowledge that departing employees take with them.

Kelly Griswold, Chief Operating Officer, Onna

January 11, 2022

4 Min Read
business people leaving a building silhouetted
Alex Linch via Alamy Stock

The Great Resignation. The Great Reshuffle. The Big Quit. By now you’ve definitely heard of this monumental phenomenon that we are living through, if not experienced it first-hand. The pandemic encouraged a period of reflection that has driven many employees across all industries to explore new possibilities when it comes to their work, and as a result, people are leaving their companies in droves. According to the Labor Department, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021 alone -- a record-breaking month to follow previous record months.

For businesses, perhaps the greatest threat of these mass resignations is not only the risk of losing good talent and productivity, but also the valuable corporate knowledge that those departing employees take with them -- knowledge that may have been developed over years and is central to running to day-to-day operations, informing critical business decisions, or guiding future innovation.

While the Great Resignation may stabilize over time, it’s becoming clear that we’re not returning to the days of long-term employee tenure. It’s time for organizations to accept this new workforce dynamic and come to terms with its inevitable effects, including on corporate knowledge. Those who embrace this change -- acting proactively when it comes to retaining and transferring knowledge -- are the ones who will come out on top.

When developing effective strategies for the preservation, protection and sharing of knowledge, we see two key approaches:

1. Create a culture that embraces, encourages, and rewards knowledge sharing

Though some may argue that highly competitive work environments fuel creativity and productivity, they also implicitly encourage information hoarding. Collaborative environments, on the other hand, not only motivate teams to collectively deliver better results, but also reward individuals for surfacing and exchanging valuable knowledge that may have otherwise remained hidden.

Establishing any kind of company culture certainly takes time, but businesses can use this unique moment in history -- what some are calling the “Great Reset” -- to accelerate the culture change process. Most companies are already embracing new ways of creating community in the virtual office, figuring out how to recognize and support people when they aren’t all together, and tapping into collaboration tools to facilitate remote working. These are all great steppingstones toward a collaborative, knowledge-sharing culture, even when colleagues are apart.

2. Look to technology to fill in the gaps

Before the era of the Great Resignation, it was typical for resigning employees to document and transfer their knowledge through a series of offboarding sessions. But with turnover now happening at scale, and in scenarios where there might be multiple employees leaving at a time, those in-depth one-to-one handovers aren’t always possible. En masse departures can also overwhelm new or remaining employees who are left scrambling to sift through all that information to figure out what is actually relevant or useful knowledge.

Technology can help in a major way by empowering employees with greater access to information, including historical information formerly owned by their predecessors. There are dozens of solutions on the market today -- enterprise content management systems, intranets, information archives, and more -- that are useful for storing and organizing information. But information does not equal knowledge. It has to be distilled, put into context, unified with other relevant information, and carefully curated to become truly useful knowledge.

Employees need to be able to find exactly what they need at exactly the right time -- no simple feat in today’s working world where the dozens of tools we use (think: Slack, Zoom, Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams, and more) are creating new hiding places for our information. This is why the most effective tools will be those that can aggregate all workplace data in one central repository and allow for advanced search. Machine learning can be incredibly powerful in helping to understand the context of what’s being stored, and provide the intelligence to know how important, up to date, or accurate a certain piece of information is. It’s capabilities like these that can turn an “information repository” into a “knowledge asset.”

Beyond Plugging the Drain

Preserving collective knowledge and enabling better access to it not only helps mitigate the Great Resignation’s knowledge drain effect, it can also help to retain current employees, potentially slowing this cultural shift on a much broader level.

Greater access to knowledge helps people work smarter and more efficiently. It supports better decision-making, speeding up innovation and invigorating people’s passions and purpose at work. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it can help restore human connection. At a time when many are struggling to forge meaningful relationships with their colleagues, a knowledge-sharing culture creates room for collaboration and community even when people are physically distant. Those deep, enduring connections are where the magic happens, and where value that extends across all areas of the business is born.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Griswold

Chief Operating Officer, Onna

Kelly Griswold was appointed as Onna’s Chief Operating Officer in October 2020, having originally joined the company as Chief Strategy Officer. She oversees Sales, Customer Success, Partnerships, Finance, Marketing, and the People Team. Her focus is on the day-to-day operations of the company, working closely with founder and CEO, Salim Elkhou, on delivering Onna’s mission.

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