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While some universities still award emeritus only to full professors, others have expanded it to include distinguished non-academic faculty. [ Photo / Business Today ]

Introduction

In a rapidly changing public service environment, there are significant concerns about the need to ensure organisational sustainability, flexibility and responsiveness in efficient service delivery.

The capacity to perform and deliver services whilst dealing with issues such as demographic dividends in the workforce, labour and skills shortages requires new approaches to ensure that the public service has the capacity to sustain effective and efficient performance and responsiveness now and in future.

I use the term Emeritus to describe those technical and professional staff that are distinguished and have served with distinction. These staff may be retired but continue to offer their expertise to institutions. The meaning of this honorific title varies widely and is applied to an ever-increasing and ever-widening cadre of personnel ranging from university professionals to public management administrators.

While some universities still award emeritus only to full professors, others have expanded it to include distinguished non-academic faculty. Several institutions have created emeritus titles for retiring administrators.

I want to propose that the Emeritustitle be conferred on just a small portion of retired staff, who have demonstrated excellence in their area of competence and who display extraordinary merit. Once awarded, the title comes with privileges, including access to office facilities like the library (and sometimes an office and boardroom), an invitation to take part in relevant official meetings and Organizational e-mail address.

 Almost always, it’s a lifetime appointment. Cases where emeriti have lost the title because they started doing contrary activities to their calling are extremely rare. The most valuable attribute for an appointed emeritus is the standing that comes with title.

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While the title confers distinction on retired staff who continue to work with organizations on special contractual Agreement, its real importance is for those who want to continue the transfer of  knowledge that they have acquired to existing staff through experiential Coaching, Counselling and Mentoring in organizations.

To have a Public service Emeritus strategy is to ensure the continuation of effective service provision to the citizenry, regardless of organisational change. Without planning, disruptions caused by both expected and unexpected exits can lead to sub-optimal outcomes in the delivery of Government business. Forward planning to manage knowledge and skills exit helps develop a diverse workforce better equipped to respond well to a variety of challenges, not just human resource-related change

 Background and Context

The proposed public service Emeritus strategy is an initiative that aims at ensuring efficient public service delivery, sustainability, flexibility and responsiveness through knowledge management and retention. Ability to deliver services within a rapidly changing environment calls for innovation and creativity to effect deliberate transformation of the Public Service. The demand for quality public service necessitates the need for novelty through tapping into retiring professionals and technical staff with the requisite skills, competencies and experience in work performance.

An efficient and effective, public sector is vital to the successful implementation of policies, programmes and projects This efficiency is brought through building and strengthening institutional capacity of public service, sound financial management, efficient and fair collection of taxes, and transparent operations.

Organizational Brain-Drain

 One of the most pressing concerns facing the Public service workplace is organizational brain-drain through exit of technical and professional staff. A complex issue, the brain-drain concept exemplifies social factors that threaten knowledge transfer and knowledge retention within the Kenyan public service at the two levels of government.

Records from the Integrated Public Service Personnel Data (IPPD) indicate that 12,112 civil servants retired on attainment of Mandatory Age Limit (MAL) as follows; by 2014, 3,120 civil servants retired; 2015, 3,581; 2016 5,050 and by 2017, 361 totaling to 12,112. Having served in the civil service for an average of 30 years, majority of theseprofessionals cadres exiting the service acquire immense depth of knowledge that needs to be codified and stored in a database

The continued loss of organization knowledge through mandatory retirement is a significant blow to the civil service. In addition, the number of new entrants to the labor market is not sufficient to replace those exiting in terms of knowledge transfer and retention. These converging dynamics have created several major challenges for public service. In today’s public service workplaces, multigenerational challenges and conflicts are starting to be a common phenomenon.

Brain-drain has numerous causes. Modern downsizing, outsourcing and cost-cutting trends have produced a new breed of younger, more career-mobile employees who are not as attached to organizations as workers of prior generations. In addition, many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) are in a state of generational flux as the median employee age is rapidly dropping and many professional and technical employees are now eligible and potentially gearing up for retirement.

Kenya’s workforce spans four generations, with recent university and college graduates, people in the middle age bracket, the 40 to 49 years and older workers aged 50 and 59 years, thrown together in Public sector environment. Replacing employees is only part of the problem. A bigger issue is how the Public Service continues to tap the vast store of knowledge that retiring employees possess.

Despite tension and workplace inefficiencies caused by generational conflicts, when workers aged 50 and 59 years exit, executive leadership face daunting task. The loss of organizational intelligence and knowledge these professionals possess could amount to billions of shillings of lost intellectual capital. To mitigate this potential massive loss, public sector leadership must act fast.

Even in organizations with younger employees who experience much smaller attrition rates, such organizations must still consider knowledge management issues. After all, institutional knowledge loss can also occur when key employees resign or are lost due to illness, tragedy, or being poached by another organization

While many professionals are preparing to leave the workforce; the National and county leadership must come up with strategies to tap into this source of experiential knowledge through Knowledge Management strategies. It has been argued that Most professional public servants are among some of the best-educated, most highly skilled aging workforce. Although they’re only about 31% percent of the workforce, they comprise more than half of all managers and almost half of all professionals, such as Administrators, managers, doctors, lawyers etc.

 Role of public service

Kenya’s public service is facing unprecedented challenges and great opportunities as it strives to shape a high performing, high integrity, dynamic and citizen-centric public service. Kenyans expect a public service that is built on the foundation and principles of good governance; high patriotism, ethics and integrity; a public service ecosystem and environment that is harmonious, inclusive, diverse and sustainable; and leveraging on science and technology.

The public sector must actively and relentlessly pursue a public service transformation agenda powered by a well thought-out public service Emeritus programme given that the target date to achieve a middle-income level country is hardly two decades away.

 Challenges and critical issues affecting the public service require public servants who are able to think strategically, be more creative and innovative to shape a future public service that remains relevant and is able to change with the needs of the time. At the same time, public organizations need to be more open and dynamic. All of these need to be combined and supported by a public service delivery system that is fast, accurate, proactive and responsive.

Knowledge Transfer and Retention

 Low workforce participation rate of older professionals in the public service

The drop in labour force participation rates have concerned Human Resource economists for several reasons. First, it depresses economic growth. Second, it puts pressure on the National budget resulting to fiscal constraints. The fewer workers there are, the more the tax base shrinks. And thirdly, any time out of the labour force impacts workers’ future earnings trajectories should they return to work, due to lost training and on-the-job experience. Part of the decline in workforce participation is the result of mandatory retirement and natural attrition

My research has revealed that 31% of staff at National and County Governments level are aged between 50 and 59 years, while 30% are in the age bracket of 40 to 49 years. Further, 40% of staff in a number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies are aged 50 years and above. Therefore, increasing the workforce participation rate of professional and technical workers who are exiting the service is an effective strategy to enhance public sector productivity. Lack of strategy of re-engagement of this cohort results to loss of knowledge, skills and experience in the service.

Operating from widespread social stereotypes, employers and managers may inadvertently undervalue older workers skills and experience. [ Photo / Forbes ]

Further, professional and technical older workers have acquired specific management skills, using greater intelligence based on knowledge acquisition and experience, whereas younger managers may have higher levels of basic or abstract reasoning ability. My survey study has found out that there is no statistically significant difference between the capacities of older and younger managers.

In addition, professional and technical older workers play a crucial role in assisting an organisation to engage with its customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. There is great benefit to Public service institutions in including older workers perspectives within the organisation, to guide decision making, and to include in branding, marketing and community engagement strategies.

 Inadequate use of diversity dividend

Workplace diversity is a central issue in human resource management in any organization in the 21st century.  The call for workforce diversity has arisen in part from social movements which challenge traditional patterns of exclusions in most important institutions of society including work institutions and public employment. 

Organized societies have promoted change in legislation, social values and roles in the work place. Civil rights, older workers, women’s and persons with disabilities movements have to a large degree put pressure to broaden composition of the labour force.  This has led to opening up of opportunities for groups which previously had been excluded from accessing societal resources and opportunities.

When addressing workplace diversity, emphasis is often placed on groups of people who, for historical, cultural and systematic reasons, have been excluded from the workforce or face barriers or discrimination that limit their full participation in the labour market. 

Diversity initiatives commonly refer to the policies, programs and strategies designed to promote representative diversity within organizations.  Achieving diversity, however, is a double-edged sword where increased diversity creates challenges at both organizational and interpersonal levels.  There is, therefore, need to have in place strategies of managing conflicts between the diverse groups of employees.

Kenya as a member of the international community has ratified treaties and conventions that call for inclusions of all members of society in all sectors including public sector appointments.  However, there is no policy and  legislation to give effect  and domesticate these international treaties and conventions that Kenya has ratified as per constitutional requirement in Article 2 (5) and (6). 

Professional and technical older workers are a key element of a diverse workforce; when well managed this pays the diversity dividend. It leads to  better decision making – the organisation has the benefit of drawing on different perspectives and different ways of thinking from within its workforce when setting strategies and solving problems.

Further, it results to increased sustainability – the organisation is better equipped to adapt to change, and less reliant on a particular type of worker or age cohort. Also, it produces Higher productivity – the workforce is more engaged and motivated, leading to better outputs.

Professional and technical older workers promote closer connection – the workforce better reflects the organisation‘s customers and suppliers, bringing stronger engagement with customers more effective business-to-business relationships. Older workforce results to Wider reach – the organisation has greater insight into new markets, locally and globally.

 Negative stereotyping on ageism

Negative stereotyping of older workforce – sometimes called ageism – is common in the public service. We tend to equate age with lower levels of energy, loss of physical and mental capacity, and higher levels of illness. Negative stereotyping is a significant barrier to older people‘s workforce participation. It reduces productivity, triggers early retirement, forces many into unemployment and causes organisations to miss out on their skills and experience

Operating from widespread social stereotypes, employers and managers may inadvertently undervalue older workers skills and experience, assuming that they will have difficulty learning new skills or using new technology. Other negative stereotypes about older workers are that they are less competent, are less productive, and are resistant to change. Ageism may be hidden behind euphemisms such as unable to fit into the current work team, overqualified or lacking up-to-date skills

As is often the case with stereotypes, these perceptions or assumptions about older workers do not accurately reflect reality. For example, contrary to the stereotype that older workers lack commitment to the job, studies suggest that workers aged 45 and over were 2.6 times less likely to have left their job in the past year than worker aged under 45, and that there are no significant differences in relation to job commitment measures

Another aspect of stereotyping is to assume that all older workers are the same. In fact, there is great diversity not just between but within generations. For example, older workers come from diverse backgrounds, are in different financial situations and have different life experiences.

positive stereotype that older workers are reliable may hinder them in the contemporary workplace with its emphasis on innovation, flexibility and creativity

In addition, older workers family situations vary along a spectrum from being free from family responsibilities and wanting to prioritise work for the first time in their lives, to being simultaneously responsible for very older parents as well as children, grandchildren and/or great grandchildren.

One final aspect of ageism is worth noting: even stereotypes which on the surface may appear to be positive can have detrimental effects. For example, the ―positive stereotype that older workers are wise may bring with it the accompanying assumption that an older worker should not be put in charge of an innovative project because their approach is likely to be too conservative. Similarly, the ―positive stereotype that older workers are reliable may hinder them in the contemporary workplace with its emphasis on innovation, flexibility and creativity

 Lack of investment in flexible work options

Availability of flexible work options is a key part of recruiting, retaining and maximising the productivity of older workers. Many older workers are interested in being able to work fewer hours or fewer days per week, or in having flexible start and finish times. Some are interested in being able to arrange significant periods of unpaid leave, for leisure, volunteering, or community activities or to coordinate with their partner‘s leave arrangements.

Some older workers also cite the ability to work from home as an important feature, to reduce the amount of travel required or to allow for a better balance between work and non-work responsibilities and interests. Older workers may be interested in different types of flexibility than younger workers: instead of parental leave or incentives like promotion, older workers may be attracted by flexibility to care for their own or relative’s needs, or roles with less time required for hands-on management.

Of course, flexible work is not just of value to older workers. Employees of every age benefit from the availability of flexible work options, as do their employers. 

 Flexible careers

For many older workers, flexible work is specifically about phasing into retirement: For other employees it is less about leaving the workplace and more about establishing a new, sustainable pattern of work for a new stage of life. This introduces the concept of flexible careers: a person‘s level of investment in work changes over the course of their life and does not necessarily follow a simple ―career path which ends with a retirement at age 60.

 Flexible Work Arrangements

Flexible work arrangements may appeal to older adults who no longer wish to work traditional full-time schedules, either because of additional personal obligations worsening health, declining physical energy or stamina, or a preference to sacrifice some income for more control over their time without giving up paid employment entirely. Some older workers with enough savings or access to pension benefits can maintain their living standards with lower earnings.

Flexible Work Arrangements Include the Following:

  1. Part-time employment;
  2. Flexible work schedules, including flextime (which grants employees some control over the timing of the workday) and compressed work schedules (which allow employees to work longer days but shorter weeks);
  3. Job sharing;
  4. changing jobs within the organization, which can facilitate shifts to part-time work and offer new opportunities to older employees seeking new challenges;
  5. Telework arrangements, which enable employees to work from home or teleworking centres closer to home than their normal workplace. These arrangements require appropriate workplaces free from distractions with necessary communications equipment.
  6. They are not appropriate for all jobs, such as those that require equipment that cannot be placed in individual homes and those that entail face-to-face interaction with customers or fellow employees;
  7. Flexible work programs, which allow employees to shuttle between two locations seasonally. These arrangements are economically viable for large organizations in such sectors as retailing and health care services with customer bases that also migrate over the course of the year

 Repeat Careers

With public servants staying healthy and active for longer periods, many are enjoying an extended period of work. This may take place predominantly after the traditional retirement age however it does not mean that the person has retired or wants to retire: many older workers want to continue to participate in “returning-back” to the organisation during this period, generating a new concept of repeat careers

Encore careers refer specifically to work with a social impact, with a strong emphasis on volunteering rather than paid work. While not necessarily full time, an encore career involves a significant time commitment, definitely more than a hobby or occasional activity. It also involves new directions, personal growth and new experiences.

Re-skilling older workforce for the future

The issue of training and development for older workers is rather contentious. There is a common perception that older workers skills and qualifications may be out of date. At the same time, older workers may be either deliberately or inadvertently restricted from accessing training and professional development, on the misapprehension that workers who are ―close to retirement are not worth the investment in training. Sometimes older workers are encouraged to take redundancy, or are retrenched, rather than offered training.

Surveys show that Public service managers are far more likely to view younger workers as worth training, and that when budgets for training are cut back, MDA’s are even more likely to discount the value of offering training to older workers The reluctance to invest in older workers is based on two questionable assumptions; that skills enhancement through training will be greater in younger workers compared to older workers; and /or that older workers will not stay as long in the organization as younger workers. Research evidence shows that both these assumptions are unfounded Offering training to older workers has the dual benefit of ensuring their skills and qualifications remain up to date, and counteracting stereotype threat by making them feel valued in the workplace

When it comes to on-the-job training, MDA’s need to consider not just olderworkers‘ training needs, but also their capacity to be a training resource within the organization. Many older workers are well suited to Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring and other roles where they can share their experience and corporate knowledge in formal or informal ways.

 Adult learning

Contrary to popular thinking, the ability for adults to learn is not dependent    on age. Contemporary neuroscience dispels the stereotypes that are attributed to older-aged workers when it comes to learning new skills. The concept of neural plasticity and the brain‘s remarkable capacity to adapt and change has rendered redundant the old adage that “you can‘t teach an old dog new tricks”. Ageing and reduced brain functions do not necessarily go hand in hand. Studies show that mature aged workers are as ―trainable in new skills  as their younger counterparts

However, it is important to acknowledge that some older workers may not have undertaken formal education or training for a long time. The current older generation tends to have lower levels of formal education than subsequent generations, which means that some older workers may have relatively low levels of literacy or numeracy. This does not mean they are unable to learn, simply that they did not have the same access to education in their youth which is now taken for granted.

Given that older workers may have years of experience but no up-to-date qualifications, training packages tailored for older workers may incorporate recognition of prior learning. This allows training participants to combine demonstrating their existing skills with learning new skills, to attain a qualification

 Career planning

A specific training and professional development need is emerging for older workers: later life career planning. Once considered the exclusive domain of school leavers and university graduates, career planning is just as important for mid-career and older workers however the focus may be different: not on occupational choice but on career success, job mobility and continuous re-skilling.

In order to take full advantage of the opportunity to continue in their career, flex their career or perhaps embark on an encore career, older workers may need to plan ahead. This kind of career advice needs to take place well before a worker begins to consider retirement, as early as their 40s. They may need to undertake training or re-skilling in new areas, and may appreciate financial planning advice in conjunction with career planning.

 Constitution of Kenya 2010

Article 232 of the Kenyan Constitution, 2010 provides that subject to representation of Kenya’s diverse communities and affording adequate and equal opportunities to men, women, members of all ethnic groups and persons with disabilities, fair competition and merit be the basis of appointment and promotion. Currently, there are about 700,000 persons serving in the public sector (KNBS 2015) all from varied ethnic groups and races, persons with disabilities, the marginalized and minorities. 

A Public Service workforce that respects the country’s diversity will accord support, understanding and unity in diversity, leading to improved service delivery.  Further, a service that values and capitalizes on employee’s diversity will attract and retain productive employees.  However, merely diversifying the workforce is not enough; there is need to ensure that diversity helps enhance organizational performance.  Consequently, the human resource practices and organizational structures need to change in order to accommodate and manage the diverse groups and views.

Rationale for an Emeritus Strategy

The Public Service should be keen to harnesses the knowledge and experiences of exiting technical and professional public officers who have attained the Mandatory Retirement Age through an organised emeritus programme.There is an imperative fora comprehensive integrated Emeritus strategy to tap quality skills from the exiting professionals in technical areas, and an attractive structured engagement mechanism to harness and manage the intellectual and Knowledge dividend.  It is in light of the above that I found it necessary to propose the development of a comprehensive public policy emeritus programme.

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About the Author

Dr Elijah Achoch is a Human Resource Management and Development Specialist and an adjunct lecturer in Kenya's top universities Business Schools. He holds a PhD degree in HRM from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Email: [email protected]

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