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How to prevent brain drain

Andrew Brassleay

One in 10 of Britain’s best workers have been lured from the UK in a brain drain and been replaced by low-skilled migrants, according to research from the University College London. Andrew Brassleay looks at how to attract and retain the best talent, now that the future of retaining highly skilled nationals and migrant staff is uncertain in the wake of the referendum

The second decade of the 21st century has heralded the age of austerity in the UK. Wages have finally begun to rise slowly but have been outstripped by spiralling housing costs. It’s become increasingly difficult for those not on the housing ladder to stay in the place they’re currently living.  
This has resulted in a brain drain taking place across regions in the country. Last year, it was revealed that 10% of highly skilled workers in the UK have emigrated in order to seek out better wages and improved standards of living.    

Nick Goldberg is managing director of leadership developers Lee Hecht Harrison. He says: "There are huge risks for organisations in not helping employees address the challenges created by the housing crisis and age of austerity, such as loss of key talent, loss of intellectual capital, low employee engagement, and the increased costs associated with replacing talent and getting new hires up to speed."   

How can companies retain their best workers?

Be flexible

Home working is one obvious solution, cutting travel costs and times at a stroke, and allowing employees more freedom where they can live. The cost of such a move would, as deputy head of consultancy at ELAS Geoff Isherwood explains, "be limited to transporting and supplying the necessary equipment to the home and doing a risk assessment".   

Carl Reader is the author of The Start Up Coach and The Franchise Handbook. He says: "Remote working is an under-used tool by many businesses, and can really help businesses not only retain staff but also increase productivity. We have found in our own business that not only does it help those who live further away from the office, but it also helps mums who are returning to work and who can't commit to full-time childcare. Perhaps counter-intuitively, productivity for remote workers is often higher than office-based workers, as the workers aren't subject to commuting time, nor office distractions."   
However, it’s not without its problems. Good employers should ensure their staff do not feel isolated working away from colleagues. Businesses should also ensure a positive working environment when taking on remote working.    

As Carl explains: "The problem I see for many businesses trying to implement remote working, particularly in smaller businesses, is that the management team often has a fundamental distrust of its staff, due to cultural issues in the business. Their experience of being an employee of the same organisation is often that of poor management, having every move monitored and not being empowered to work towards results, instead being micro-managed around actions. Their own experiences of this are only repeated, usually due to a lack of formal management and leadership training, and the concept of micromanagement is much harder when employees aren't physically present in the business premises."   

Building camaraderie is key when bringing in home working, says David Dumeresque of executive search firm Tyzack. He says that can come through "providing hot-desking opportunities for those who want to attend an office," and "regular away days and events to which everyone comes, some business orientated and some less so."   

Dan Collier, chairman of recruitment platform Elevate, says remote working can help but may not suit young businesses that rely on staff being close geographically to get the best of them. He suggests "talent on demand" as an alternative, saying: "By using skilled contractors for short-term projects, companies can attract the best-qualified candidates without worrying about the challenges of retaining them long-term. 

"This trend is mirrored by a fast-growing army of highly skilled temporary workers who choose to work on short-term contracts. These are people who are mobile and will go to where the work is."   

Be mobile

Nick gives one solution to companies with more than one centre - mobility within the business: "Talent mobility is increasingly important as organisations continue their drive to stay ahead of the competition. Initiatives such as redeployment, which actively encourages talent mobility (whether within functions, to other parts of the business or even other countries) are more widely being adopted by organisations to retain the skills and knowledge of employees looking to move, either as part of their own development or for other reasons, rather than losing intellectual capital from the business completely. 

"By helping employees move around the business, you’re helping them to develop, which in turn builds engagement and loyalty. It’s also a good alternative to remote working which can impact innovation and creativity, and is not suitable for everyone. However, the process of looking for and applying for internal vacancies needs to be transparent and easy, breaking down the barriers around internal moves, and looking at the longer term advantages of retaining talent." 

Bourneville towns?

David adds another solution, for the companies able to provide it, is to help employees find property by joint-owning it with them.  David says: "A company could contribute to entice people to stay, offering golden handcuffs, as it were. Obviously, this would mainly be a viable solution if the talent has very specialist skills or is highly skilled. However, it could become an important differentiator for employers, especially in the war for graduate talent. 

"In effect, this would mean talented employees would have a far greater stake in an organisation. They would be more emotionally as well as financially bound into the organisation. However, this would need to be carefully thought through - we are not suggesting a return to Bourneville where there were company towns!  

"Certainly this kind of incentive also demonstrates an organisation's commitment to their top employees. However, issues such as what happens to the profits if people need to be made redundant or if they leave the business of their own will all need to be carefully thought through - this could become an innovative and appealing share option if properly managed." 


  • Taylor Wilson

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