I'm writing a proposal for work. For it, I would like a word that describes the concept of brain drain - lots of people leaving the country and taking their knowledge with them - but that is limited to within the same company.

Wikipedia (and others) defines brain drain as:

...the large-scale emigration of a large group of individuals with technical skills or knowledge.

What I'm looking to describe, however, is a situation where one or two very knowledgeable people change jobs, switch departments, or leave the company (not necessarily leaving the country) without imparting that knowledge to others. Is brain drain the best fit or are there better words?

4 Answers 4


The typical word for the general phenomenon of employees leaving an organization is attrition.

This word in reality can have a more significant meaning in the sense of loss of intellectual assets, thus causing a reduction in the company's overall capabilities.

So, I think you can use attrition in its primary sense or its metaphor here.

  • That was the first answer I thought of when I saw the question. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 14:11

Brain Drain can be used in the situation you described, as it means:

a loss of trained professional personnel to another company, nation, etc., that offers greater opportunity.

Merriam Webster Online define it as:

the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another usually for better pay or living conditions

  • 1
    -1 Brain Drain is not a synonym of Brain Drain.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 9:13
  • I did not put forward my opinion in justifying brain drain to be used in this scenario. I quoted the dictionary meaning. I would have gracefully accepted a down-vote if I would have been expressing my opinion.
    – Incognito
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 9:24
  • I would expect you to provide an answer, and an opinion if you would like to.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 9:50
  • Because I also asked if brain drain is the best fit I appreciate this answer, even though I think I like attrition better.
    – Mr. Buster
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 18:49

I'd consider defection (an act or incidence of "abandoning or turning against; ceasing or changing one's loyalty") suitable in the context you describe, on the basis that when "knowledgeable people change jobs ... or leave the company ... without imparting that knowledge to others", they have acted disloyally. Also consider betrayal, as to betray has a sense meaning "To prove faithless or treacherous to, ... ; to be false to; to deceive; as, to betray a person or a cause."

The term brain drain is less emotionally-loaded than are defection and betrayal. The referenced wikipedia article uses a term with even less passion in it, human capital flight. It also mentions converse term brain gain and related terms brain circulation and brain waste.

  • 1
    I'm actually specifically looking to avoid labeling anyone as disloyal - in our company moving between departments is encouraged. Our problem is that loyal, knowledgeable employees have no way of imparting their knowledge to others. These are great words, just not the ones I need.
    – Mr. Buster
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 18:46

A popular jargon word in the technical sector in CHCH New Zealand is "evaporation." The reasoning behind this is that when say, water is left standing at say, 30 Celsius, it will slowly evaporate despite the temperature being well below boiling point. Under such conditions the more energetic water molecules leave first.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.