Original Research

Managing the academic talent void: Investigating factors in academic turnover and retention in South Africa

Marguerite Theron, Nicolene Barkhuizen, Yvonne du Plessis
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 40, No 1 | a1117 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v40i1.1117 | © 2014 Marguerite Theron, Nicolene Barkhuizen, Yvonne du Plessis | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 March 2013 | Published: 17 April 2014

About the author(s)

Marguerite Theron, Department of Human Resource Management, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Nicolene Barkhuizen, Department of Human Resource Management, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Department of Industrial Psychology, North-West University, South Africa
Yvonne du Plessis, Department of Human Resource Management, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Orientation: Globally, the demand for academic staff in higher education is expected to continue to increase. The South African situation is exacerbated by the so-called ‘retirement swell’ and turnover and retention problems; measurements to diagnose these factors remain limited.

Research purpose: This study aimed to investigate the factors that influence turnover and retention of academic and to validate the developed talent retention diagnostic tool for use in South African higher education institutions.

Motivation for the study: Limited research currently exists on the retention factors of academic staff in the South African context.

Research approach, design and method: Using an investigative quantitative research approach, the tool was administered to a convenience sample of academics (n = 153) in 13 higher education institutions.

Main findings: The results showed an array of distinguishing turnover and retention factors and proved the tool to be a valid and reliable measure. Over half the respondents indicated slight to strong dissatisfaction with compensation and performance management practices. Significantly, 34% indicated that they considered exiting their academic institution, citing unhappiness about compensation, as the most likely reason, whilst 74.5% have previously looked for another job.

Practical/managerial implications: The research highlights key areas (i.e. compensation, emotional recognition, a bonus structure that reflects employee contribution, performance management systems, mentorship and career development opportunities) that higher education should attend to if they want to retain their key and talented academic staff.

Contribution/value-add: The results contribute to new knowledge on the factors that contribute to turnover and retention of academic staff and present a valid and reliable measure to assess these retention factors.


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