Attrition of Staff

Name Attrition of International Seconded Staff in European Civilian Missions
Modelers Paulo Gonçalves and Manuela Vender
Client/Participant United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)
Client Type NGO


The Issue
You Tackled
Staff attrition represents one of the most important challenges facing non-profit international organizations and missions in post-conflict areas, dramatically affecting their cost-effectiveness and performance. High attrition rates, along with political and security instability, threaten the execution of operations and mandates of these organizations. European Civilian Missions (ECMs) in post-conflict areas often use secondment, a particular system of recruitment, to staff their operations. However, secondment often yields higher than average attrition rates among staff. In turn, high attrition rates in ECMs deteriorate organizational capability, weakening them and reducing their effectiveness. Additionally, the considerable cost associated with constant recruitment and training of staff drains resources intended to support the Mission directives.


This case explores the causes of staff attrition through an in-depth study of one Mission deployed in Kosovo that uses secondment for staff recruitment. The case-study describes the difficulties encountered by the Mission in fulfilling its mandate due to extremely high staff turnover rates, reaching 50% in 2008. We discuss possible improvement policies that can be undertaken by this Mission to reduce staff attrition.

What You
Actually Did

The work consists of five main parts.
Using available data, our work analyzes both the general aspects of international non-profit work environments and specific aspects of the secondment system that can cause attrition. The field site for our study is the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) that struggled with high attrition rates. The case-study explores the mechanisms by which high attrition rates (reaching 50%) can cripple an International Mission. It also investigates why past policies aimed at reducing attrition failed.

Our project framework:

PART 1 – Review data, document HR process
- Analyzed data previously collected by UNMIK from interview panels and staff satisfaction surveys with international staff holding positions in different grade levels.
- Identified dynamics involved in the current human resources processes at UNMIK: recruiting and training new staff, the drain on experienced staff, the subsequent impact on attrition, aspects reinforcing this process.
OUTPUT*: Causal Loop Diagram mapping the HR processes that capture the impact of high attrition rates on staff productivity.

PART 2 – Analyze UNMIK’s past attempts at reducing attrition
- Reviewed and analyzed unsuccessful isolated UNMIK attempts to reduce staff turnover: increasing contract duration, increasing seconded staff salary, introducing capacity building and orientation training for new arrivals, and attempting to create a family oriented work environment.
OUTPUT*: Causal Loop Diagrams mapping dynamics of recruitment and retention measures, gaps in desired to actual total staff and the resulting pressure on staff to close such gaps.

PART 3 – Identify high leverage HR policies for intervention
- Analyzed comprehensive Causal Loop Diagram to identify the feedback processes that influence the variables driving attrition rates.
- Identified improvement policies that can reduce attrition rates as well as possible limitations of those policies based on UNMIK data and current literature on attrition issues.
OUTPUT*: Causal Loop Diagrams representing an integrated approach to problem of recruitment and retention identifying high leverage HR policies

*Comprehensive Causal Loop Diagrams were created to frame these complex issues. For more information or to see the models, contact Paulo Gonçalves ([email protected]).

The Results

Our findings shed light into the complexities of attrition in International Missions, both ECMs and UN, and the shortcomings of the secondment system. We also suggest improvements to the secondment system that can reduce attrition rates.

Summary of policy recommendations:
While it is easier to attract new staff than prevent current staff from leaving, the two cannot be treated separately. Isolated recruitment improving measures were ineffective because they did not address the working conditions that directly affect retention. Instead, a focus on integrated retention strategies yield a greater impact on lowering attrition, since ultimately these policies improve general working conditions and consequently the organization’s ability to recruit. Specifically, the following policy recommendations could significantly improve retention in ECMs while continuing to use secondment as the main recruitment mechanism:
 Restructure compensation system
 Develop career paths and improve job stability
 Improve quality of work environment
 Recruit experienced people
 Increase hiring standards and establish concrete job expectations
 Increase number of nominations and target prospective candidates
 Avoid recruiting staff on short-term assignments

Missions should ensure consistency in human resource practices such as upgrading, downsizing and recruiting procedures across all staff, contracted and seconded staff. The harmonization of benefits and entitlements of all seconded staff independently of seconded Government would undoubtedly benefit the recruitment and the retention of staff.

If your organization faces similar problems of staff attrition, get in touch and we may be able to help.

Related Publications Attrition of International Seconded Staff in European Civilian Missions Download