Workplace Demographic Challenges in Africa: Insights from a Public Sector Organisation

Workplace Demographic Challenges in Africa: Insights from a Public Sector Organisation

By Dr. Nnamdi O. Madichie and Dr. Margaret Nyakang’o

This article highlights the need for a Strategic Workforce Plan in the public sector using a case illustration of a National Bureau of Statistics in a developing world context striving to confront an ageing workforce situation. The article is based on a 2016 DBA study which was consequently published in reputable journal on Employee Relations.


The challenge of an ageing workforce is not a common occurrence in developing countries especially those in youth populated geographies such as sub-Saharan Africa. Surprisingly, therefore, the manifestations of this observed, and arguably unusual occurrence in a public sector organisation of the clout of the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, warrants discussing – from changing the status quo to “nipping” the demographic timebomb in the bud, engendering employee relations to organisational learning.


This topic is timeless as the demographic profile in Africa, South of the Sahara is ever-changing with a bulging youth population being side-lined from public sector employment. Indeed, the matter has been trending and the momentum brewing across countries from those is West Africa, to those in East Africa and Southern Africa.


With headlines such as Aging Workforce Challenges: Trends, Statistics and Impact closely following a 2014 World Bank Report on Aging: A problem in Africa as well? It is not surprising that the matter cannot be swept under the carpet. Indeed, a 2018 report in the Guardian recognises the problem in the UK in an article that highlights the unexpected costs. However, while this may be readily explained, the same cannot be said for Africa. Indeed, a recent report by the World Economic Forum entitled raises some matters arising – i.e. burden vis-à-vis opportunity, which confirm the study being interrogated in this article.

Key Points

Interestingly there have been numerous debates and commentaries from personal blogs to reports by the likes of the IMF and the World Bank and yet other think tanks on the pros and cons of an ageing workforce for the global economy. This article seeks to articulate these observations from a rather surprising context with a teeming youth population and the ensuing pensions crisis.

The challenge of an ageing workforce is not a common occurrence in developing countries especially those in youth populated geographies such as sub-Saharan Africa. Surprisingly, therefore, the manifestations of this observed, and arguably unusual occurrence in a public sector organisation of the clout of the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, warrants eyebrow raising. Using an internally generated strategic workforce plan as a tool for changing the status quo, this study highlights the “situation,” and posits how to “nip” the demographic timebomb in the bud” – from managerial interventions and/ or realisations such as employee buy-in/ relations to organisational learning.

Londoner Sydney Prior, who worked at a home-improvement store until he was 96 (source: WEF)

Why is this important?

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the need for a Strategic Workforce Plan (SWP) in a public sector organization (PSO) confronting an ageing workforce situation. The study is based upon an action research protocol with a view to initiating change through SWP developed in-house at a PSO that is arguably the custodian of workplace diversity. The findings reveal a general consensus on the ageing workforce challenges at the PSO requiring the need to revisit the status quo on the recruitment and retention strategies as well as succession planning and talent management practices within the organization. In terms of implications, the study highlights the case of a PSO that has set about addressing the workplace demographic challenge by involving employees to become more reflexive in their engagement within the organization, which serves the dual purpose of “custodian” and “role model” for the country.

Is this business as usual?

Generally speaking, the challenge of an ageing workforce is not common occurrence in developing countries such as Kenya. However, the manifestations of this unusual occurrence, and attempts to “nip things in the bud”, using an internally generated SWP with a view to changing the status quo is a demonstration of organizational learning and employee buy-in.

Against the backdrop of a rapidly growing, and better educated youth population in SSA, the representation of the youth in the public sector has been marginal. This raises a number of concerns that form part of the research enquiry prompting the need to explore whether a Strategic Workforce Plan (SWP) would be accepted and implantable in order to mitigate the demographic challenges in the workplace of a Public Sector organization (PSO) that should be a role model for the public sector in Kenya. The study demonstrates the case of a PSO that requires addressing the workplace demographic challenge confronting organizations especially those in the public sector. In this particular case the need is even more pertinent considering that it should be seen as not just the custodian but also as a role model for workplace diversity. The study, therefore, sought to investigate the need for a SWP in a PSO confronting an ageing workforce dilemma.

Study Aims and Objectives

The main purpose of this study was to investigate organizational sub-groups at the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and tease out the multiple team perspectives of employees as experienced in their everyday lives within the organization. This involved encouraging employees to become more reflexive in their engagement at KNBS. As a reflexive study the three aims were to:

First, understand why staff have not been replenished regularly leading to mass exits. This would then improve the staff recruitment strategies.

Second, to identify strategies that would foster understanding between the older and younger generations. This will improve employee relations within the workforce and improve retention rates.

Third, to link the organization’s strategic objectives to the human capital challenges as well as the Government’s development blueprint, the Vision 2030.

The Organisational Challenge

The KNBS faces a looming workplace demographic deficit that would require research into understanding how best to replenish exiting staff, while improving on diversity of its workplace along all facets of the demographic – age, gender, education being the main elements. In the face of a new “constitutional dispensation” in Kenya, coupled with the country’s increasingly aware and educated populace the diversity of the workplace should be seen as central to the daily lives of those in the public sector of which KNBS is the legitimate custodian. It must be pointed out that KNBS is a microcosm of the general Kenyan economy where on average, 800,000 Kenyan youth join the labour market every year, chasing the half a million jobs available. What is intriguing, however, is that these jobs are mostly in the informal sector of the economy (only 10 per cent are in the formal sector). Indeed, official statistics such as those from the World Bank’s Economic Stimulus Plan suggests that an additional 300,000 jobs would have been created enough to hire all unemployed urban youths aged 15-34 years. Government spending government on jobs creation is expensive and the returns are not commensurate with the financial outlays.

What are the main findings of the study?

The main findings of the study lean towards the need for SWP emanating from the established ageing workforce at KNBS. The focus groups all pointed towards: A change in the status quo especially in the areas of existing recruitment and retention strategies; Matters related to talent management and succession planning. Indeed, a realization of the disconnect in the inter-generational workforce, which emerged out of the collective internally driven action research also testifies to the appropriateness of the adopted approach; Provides avenues for reflexive thinking and organizational learning being plugged into the SWP going forward – in other words the buy-in of employees going through a change process. Overall, the main purpose of this study was to explore the how, where and what the ageing workforce in Kenya’s public sector has been managed.

So, what do we conclude?

In order to reach the conclusions, an evaluation of the status quo within the ranks of the custodian of national statistics in the country was undertaken with a general consensus reached as to the need for changing existing practices. Considering that KNBS is perceived by the key informants in the study as a microcosm of the wider economy, the dilemma of an ageing workforce was deemed to be a clear and present danger, which is in need of public policy attention. As a consequence, the proposed SWP may be seen as a step in the right direction, as it proposes coping strategies to address the demographic challenge facing, not just KNBS in particular, but Kenya in general.

Undoubtedly the workplace, as we know it today, faces challenges, even with the best laid out plans. The proposition for a SWP against a fast dwindling older generation of workers brings into sharp focus the question of accession of younger generation into the workplace – especially in a context that is newly exposed to the situation of an ageing workforce.

This demographic diversity poses a challenge in terms of creating and managing harmonious workplaces, where each generation’s unique values and office expectations commingle. Indeed, research has pointed out that management should be aware of the characteristics of the different generations (notably Generation Y) even though it may also bring about inter-generational conflict in the workplace. In order to avoid such clashes, organizations should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities to all staff without discrimination to ensure that all employees work in harmony. Overall even though this study may be deemed a pioneering effort as exploring diversity issues in the workplace and specifically from the age discrimination rather than the usual suspects (e.g. gender and ethnicity) it must be acknowledged that prior studies have undertaken such endeavours – albeit from an SME perspective – exploring organizational commitment and talent management.

About the Authors:

Nnamdi O. Madichie, PhD, is currently External Examiner at the Liverpool John Moore’s University, UK. He is also Director of the Centre for Research and Enterprise at the Bloomsbury Institute London. His research interests straddle broad areas of marketing and entrepreneurship. Dr Madichie is also co-author of Digital Entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa published as part of the Palgrave Studies of Entrepreneurship in Africa. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (FCIM), a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI), and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy for England and Wales. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Margaret Nyakang’o is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and holds a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of Liverpool, UK (2016). Her experience spans over thirty years across Government institutions, Local authorities, State Corporations, Donor-funded programmes and Academia. She has recently completed her term in office as Director of Finance & Administration at the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2008-2018). Prior to this, she had worked with the Kenya National Audit Office as Principal Auditor. Dr Nyakang’o has just completed a six-year tenure as a Board Trustee with the KNBS Retirement Benefits Scheme and is currently Board member of the Institute of Pension Management, where she chairs the Strategy and Finance Committee and the Vet Labs Sports Club since January 2018 as Membership Director. She also sits on the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights Audit Committee as a member. She had been the Finance Director of Africa International University and currently shares her wealth of experience at KCA University bridging the practitioner with the academic world in business schools.

Share this post

Post Comment