Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Managing the Academic Talent Void: Investigating Factors in Academic Turnover and Retention in South Africa

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Managing the Academic Talent Void: Investigating Factors in Academic Turnover and Retention in South Africa

Article excerpt


Globally, the demand for academic staff in higher education institutions (HEIs) is increasing, and is expected to continue to increase. Concurrently, retention problems and intention to leave are exacerbating the problem, and a so-called academic 'retirement swell' is also evident, leaving HEIs with no option but to seriously investigate retention of academic staff (HESA, 2011; Pienaar & Bester, 2008). According to Higher Education South Africa (HESA), and from the literature, it is evident that HEIs are currently facing significant challenges in retaining key and talented academic staff (HESA, 2011; Mokoditoa, 2011; Robyn, 2012). Several explanations have been offered to elucidate the reasons for these high turnover rates, which include, amongst others, uncompetitive remuneration packages and incentives, unfair promotion policies, a lack of adequate state and research funding, institutional cultural issues and expanding student numbers resulting in heavier workloads (Bitzer, 2008; De Villiers & Steyn, 2009; HESA, 2011; Netswera, Rankhumise & Mavundla, 2005; Ntshoe, Higgs, Higgs & Wolhuter, 2008; Pienaar & Bester, 2008).

Retaining academic staff is, of course, vital, as they ensure that universities accomplish their visions and missions, and become centres of excellence (Ng'ethe, Iravo & Namusonge, 2012). Indeed, the government expects HEIs to play a fundamentally greater role in the development of the country through a range of initiatives to accelerate economic growth, reduce poverty and supply scarce skills (CHE, 2008; HESA, 2011). The importance of these initiatives is evidenced by the fact that the World Economic Forum (2011) in its Global Competitiveness Report rated South Africa 88th out of 134 countries for labour market efficiency and 93rd out of 134 countries for innovative potential, due to low enrolment in higher education and training.

It therefore stands to reason that South African HEIs cannot afford to lose valued and talented academic employees if they are to contribute to the sustained development of the country and its people over the long term (Netswera et al., 2005; Pienaar & Bester, 2008). When top-performing employees exit, they leave a void that is often costly to fill and challenging to manage (Robison, 2008). Studies estimate replacement costs at 100% to 150% of the annual salary of such an employee (Somaya & Williamson, 2008). The impact of voluntary resignations of individuals on the workgroup and the organisation includes psychological and intangible consequences, such as loss of the knowledge, skills and experience of departing employees, disruption of service delivery, declining morale, disruptions of the productivity of the work group and stress caused by vacancies (Pienaar & Bester, 2008; Pinkowitz, Moskal & Green, 2009; Smither, 2003; Whitt, 2006).

Despite the acknowledgement of these talent management challenges, there still remains limited empirical research in developing countries to explain this phenomenon, let alone measurements that can be used to diagnose and prevent the turnover of academic staff (Ng'ethe et al., 2012) leaving an academic void. According to Harman, Lee, Mitchell, Felps and Owens (2007), theory and research studies on turnover have attempted to answer the following questions:

* Why do people voluntarily leave a position and an organisation?

* Why do people stay with an organisation?

The fact that there seems to be no definitive answers available academically implies that turnover and retention research continues to be an important research topic to pursue, as the retention of key, top-performing employees remains essential for effective organisations (Ng'ethe et al., 2012; Pienaar & Bester, 2008). Turnover, in essence, is a measure of organisational effectiveness (Boshoff & Mels, 2000), with the implicit assumption being that a stable workforce is required to meet organisational objectives (Kontoghiorghes & Frangou, 2009). …

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