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Should we retire old public servants? A view from Australia

Hi Folks – Nothing like a wintery day in Canberra to get the brain ticking over.
Does your jurisdiction or department look like this?

OK. Now that I’ve set myself up for being somewhat discriminatory consider this. The age profile of the APS is predominantly middle aged and upward. 45 to 55 + account for just over 40 percent of ongoing employees.

Many of these are career public servants and the world that shaped their view of the world is dramatically different to the world we live in now. Critically, it was a world of gradual change. Which probably explains why they are good at gradual change, but not so good at dramatic or discontinuous change.
So is it such a big surprise that the common threads running through the Innovation, Gov 2.0 and APS Reform reports is risk aversion, fear of innovation and an over-emphasis on hierarchical processes (Red tape).
Andrew Krzmarzick’s post Are Civil Servants Too Old and Selfish for Gov 2.0? suggests that this is an international problem.
So is it time to bite the bullet and look at retiring, with dignity, those public servants whose can’t cut it in a Gov 2.0 world? Let alone a radically changing one. Given the shear numbers involved I suspect it is reasonable to conclude that this should be done. The alternative is to risk our responses to a volatile and changing environment being slow and hesitant.
But if this about leadership and management resilience, do we look at basing the engagement and promotion of staff on an assessment of this quality. Mind you, I guess we do need our fair share of ‘traditional’ administrators so that side of life does not fall apart.
So being old is probably a critical indicator, but the practical testing of resilience, creativity and innovation should probably be introduced. That being said, it should definitely not be something dreamt up by organisational psychologists or even organisational development practitioners.
All in all I think the answer to the question posed by Andrew is Yes. And the next bit really boils down to adapt or leave. With the utmost of dignity in my book.
Steve D

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Profile Photo Peter Sperry

I am not sure whether this post is characterized more by stupidity or bigotry but it certainly crystallizes why public servents with enough experiance to recognize idiots may be somewhat skeptical of the koolaide drinking whatever 2.0 culture.

Profile Photo Nichole Henley

Interesting post! I do like the comparison between slow and gradual change to this current climate. It provides an interesting POV that I hadn’t considered. While I’m not exactly jumping on the bandwagon to can all the “old people,” I do think the more tech-minded youngies could help to influence change amongst our dark-age co-workers (who may be older). Retiring isn’t the only answer or best one.