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Dead Sea Effect

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In the field of Human resource management the Dead Sea Effect is an anti-pattern that leads to an accumulation of less capable members in an organization. The name was coined by Bruce Webster in a blog post[1] in 2008.

Typically the skill levels and competencies of the members joining an organization vary. However as more talented people have a much easier time to leave the organization than less talented one, more of the talented people will leave the organization skewing the distribution of the remaining population towards less skilled and talented people.


A Dead Sea Effect develops when the more talented members of an organization leave it at a disproportionately high rate. Very often they have it much easier to find opportunities elsewhere[2] facilitating the inception of the process.

They tend to be grateful they have a job and make fewer demands on management; even if they find the workplace unpleasant, they are the least likely to be able to find a job elsewhere. They tend to entrench themselves, becoming maintenance experts on critical systems, assuming responsibilities that no one else wants so that the organization can’t afford to let them go.[1]

This behavior in turn can have an adverse effect on morale and team culture, which often makes the effect self-reinforcing. At the end stages it is really hard to even attract talented personnel to join the organization.


The following conditions increase the likelihood of an organization developing the Dead Sea Effect:

  • If there is no regular outflow the only way out is by finding a better opportunity
  • If there are few or none opportunities within the organization, members will look for them elsewhere
  • Bad management leads to increased leaving rates

Mitigation Strategies[edit]

  • Stack ranking tries to introduce a regular outflow but introduces different set of challenges for organization morale.
  • Non Management Promotion tracks allow organization members to keep doing what they do best without while still enjoying an upward career trajectory.

See also[edit]

  • Peter principle
  • Dilbert principle
  • Up or out
  • Negative selection (politics)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Webster, Bruce. "The Wetware Crisis: the Dead Sea effect", Bruce f. Webster's Blog, 11 April 2008. Retrieved on 18 April 2018.
  2. Webster, Bruce. "The Wetware Crisis: the Expert Pool", Bruce f. Webster's Blog, 26 April 2008. Retrieved on 18 April 2018.

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