Kenya’s civil service is ageing, but adjustments aren’t being made

The demographic profiles of countries like Kenya, where a high percentage of people are young, would suggest that it’s swiftly renewing its workforce with fresh talent.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case.

We conducted a study in a public sector organisation three years ago. We found that the bureau had an ageing workforce. More than half of its staff were 50 years old and above. The majority of employees were aged between 51 and 60. This suggests that, in general, Kenya’s civil service is skewed to older people.

The problem hasn’t been helped by the fact that Kenya changed the retirement age from 55 to 60 years in 2009.

Our analysis focused on the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The study presents a microcosm of the wider Kenyan public sector environment.

Our study broke new ground because it explored diversity in the workplace from the perspective of age rather than gender and ethnicity as has been the case with prior studies.

The main focus of our study was to look at the recruitment and retention strategies at the bureau.

We concluded from our findings that the bureau faced a serious demographic challenge in the makeup of its workforce and that the problem could be addressed by developing a strategic workforce plan for employees. This included having a clear understanding of recruitment, progression and retention processes that are all inclusive – taking into consideration demographics such as age, gender and to some extent ethnicity.

But this would need to be developed collectively by key parties within the organisation.

More broadly, our research shows that there’s an urgent need for Kenya’s public service to address the problem.

What we found

The main purpose of the study was to investigate organisational sub-groups at the bureau and to tease out the multiple team perspectives as experienced in their everyday lives within the organisation.

We asked a sample of employees the following questions: how had the bureau managed the ageing workforce within its ranks? To what extent could it develop a plan to deal with the challenges posed by an ageing workforce within the organisation? And finally what were the current (recruitment) strategies for developing sustainable employee relations within the inter-generational workforce at the bureau?

At the time of the survey more than half of the bureau’s staff was over 50 years of age. Those aged 40 and below accounted for just over 15% of the workforce while 34% were between the ages of 41 and 50.

This demographic profile was far from optimal. We found that it was affecting the day-to-day activities in the organisation, in particular how people communicated with each other and shared information. For example, older people didn’t regularly use the internet and email, but younger members of the workforce did. The implication of this is that important work updates and news on social media could be easily missed.

The age profile also suggested that the bureau urgently needed to put in place recruitment and retention strategies. We found that most of the older workers at the bureau were retiring. This meant a loss of talent and skills because experience and skills hadn’t been passed along to younger workers.

We found that the bureau had not put in place opportunities for younger members of its workforce to learn from work shadowing, mentorship or apprenticeship as well as leadership development. This is important for continuity.

Some answers

Undoubtedly, workplaces face challenges, even with the best laid out plans.

One of the biggest is the question of ensuring that there is a talent pool to replace the current workforce as they approach retirement. This is also known as accession of the younger generation into the workplace. This is particularly pressing in the context of an ageing workforce.

Research has pointed out that management should be aware of the characteristics of the different generations (notably Generation Y, also known as the millennials, which refers to a group of people born from the early 1980s through to the turn of the millennium) even though it may also bring about inter-generational conflict in the workplace.

The answer lies in making sure that each generation’s unique values and office expectations are managed. This can be through job rotation, team-bonding, equality and diversity training sessions and the opportunity and space for sharing experiences.

Organisations should also have clearly defined roles and responsibilities to all staff without discrimination to ensure that all employees work in harmony.

For its part, the bureau needed to design a future workforce composition through detailed succession planning and talent management.

There seemed to be some degree of optimism about this among the respondents in our research. Many believed that the bureau would indeed make headway in recruiting in ways that ensured the percentage of young people – as well as women – would increase. They also believed that this would lead to a greater tolerance for minorities.

by : Nnamdi Madichie, Professor of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, Nnamdi Azikiwe University

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