Standard Group, grappling with self-inflicted financial woes, has offered its staff the option of voluntary early retirement as a way to cut costs and shore up revenues. In a memo issued on 5th October 2023, the media house says it is offering an attractive package for employees willing to take up voluntary early retirement (VER).
“After careful consideration and in our ongoing efforts to adapt to changing business needs, we are pleased to announce the availability of a Voluntary Early Retirement package,” acting CEO Joe Munene, writes to staff. “The VER programme offers our employees a voluntary opportunity for employment separation with an attractive package.”
The VER runs concurrently with a redundancy exercise through which excess staff are to be offloaded. The VER offer, which ran from 6th October and closed on 11th October, has, however, opened a can of worms for Standard management: more than 90% of employees applied to take up the offer!
Insiders say the management is stuck, not sure what to do with the applications submitted through an online link. The rush to exit Standard Group is easy to understand for a company that has been recording losses and now needs billions of shillings to stay afloat.
While the management reserves the right to accept or decline the VER applications, the unusual interest in early retirement, even for the youngest workers, speaks volumes about the waning employee loyalty at Standard Group, which over a decade ago was one of the best employers in media.
The VER offers what looks like an enticing package in these hard economic times: severance pay of 15 days for every year worked, a one-off ex-gratia of two days for every year completed, pension dues and gratuity as well as continued medical cover up to the end of this year, among others.
But, it seems, it’s not the package that is attractive: Leaving the uncertain environment at Standard has become a daily motivation for many staff to take the exit route. “Flowing the circular on Voluntary Early Retirement, over ninety percent of workers submitted their interest to end their careers at SG,” a senior staff in HR told BT. “The management is stuck.”
The angst at Standard is palatable. Many employees are now starting to have doubts about Joe Munene’s transformation. When he took over, he promised to restore workers’ salaries end of September. That has yet to materialize, with employees getting only 40% pay, leading to more frustration.
Mr Joe Munene, a Nation Media Group protege, was appointed Standard Group PLC acting CEO after Orlando Lyomu resigned and relinquished official roles and responsibilities, effective 6th July 2023.
Worse, bosses, some of whom are suspected to have been deeply involved in former CEO Orlando Lyomu’s management, are accused of harassing workers to work for more hours. “Workers have begun to defy,” someone close to the matter told BT. “Before the salary for August was deposited, Vybez and Spice FM presenters had refused to report to work for a week, citing lack of transport.”
Frustration at SG over delayed salaries and the lack of communication nor commitment on when staff will begin receiving full salaries is hitting fever-pitch. Programmes have been scaled down at KTN News as workers feel the pinch. KTN Home producers, on the other hand, have complained of harassment by “insensitive and abusive” managers. The situation is bad that KTN reporter Rita Tinina was forced to resign, and could possibly be headed to NTV.
Standard Group, which runs Kenya’s second biggest newspaper, has been swimming in red ink for the last three years. For the half-year ended 30th June 2023, the media house made a net loss of Ksh102.9 million, a significant improvement from a net loss of Ksh300 million in the same period in 2022. This offered hope for a return to profitability in the medium-term, from a Ksh1 billion loss for the full-year 2022. In 2021 it had a loss of Ksh22 million.