FC 97/15




Ninety-seventh Session

Rome, 17 - 22 September 2001

Report on Human Resources Management Issues


Table of Contents


I. Introduction

1. The Medium Term Plan covering the period 2002-2007 [hereinafter referred to as the Medium Term Plan (MTP)] reflects the human resources (HR) needs for the implementation of the Organization's objectives as set out in the Strategic Framework. It contains specific objectives for the human resources function of FAO.

2. This paper describes the background against which FAO's human resources management reform efforts have been undertaken and which must be considered in developing human resources strategies and policies. In light of that background it provides a summary of specific human resources objectives for FAO (Part II). It also summarizes some of the recent and planned reform initiatives in key areas of human resources management (Part III). The conclusions are contained in Part IV.

II. Managing Human Resources in a New Environment

3. The environment in which international organizations are operating is evolving radically. Rapid advances in technology, demographic changes, and additional expectations of the emerging workforce are modifying the ways of work. There is evidence that the gap between the skills required by organizations and the availability of skilled workers is growing, and the ability to attract and retain the best workers is increasingly becoming vital for organizations. At the same time, the new workforce, younger, more mobile and versatile, with different values and career expectations, places more emphasis on an appropriate balance between work and personal lives and requires organizations to adopt work/life policies.

4. There is a growing demand in organizations to accommodate a variety of individual needs and circumstances. Experience in both public and private sector organizations shows that staff productivity is enhanced when alternatives, options and the freedom to adapt work demands with personal commitments and interests are provided. Today's workforce continues to highly value a competitive compensation package but is also looking for a management culture which promotes communication, accountability, flexibility and transparency in the implementation of human resources policies. When this is coupled with information sharing and opportunities to learn and develop new skills to ensure marketability both within and outside the organization, staff interest and productivity are well sustained.

5. Competitiveness in the international labour market, driven by the supply and demand trends, has placed increasing pressures on international organizations to offer competitive pay and benefits packages. United Nations Organizations can no longer rely on their diversity and multiculturalism to attract and retain personnel of the highest standard of efficiency and technical competence. The pay and benefits system of the UN Common System is no longer competitive resulting in recruitment and retention difficulties. With the objective of rendering the UN compensation package competititive, FAO along with other organizations of the UN Common System, is participating in the review, begun in December 2000 by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), of the pay and benefits.

6. FAO, like a number of national administrations, private sector companies, and other international organizations, is experiencing this phenomenon and facing the critical task of adapting to a new environment. In fact, market concepts, hitherto mainly an experience of the private sector, are increasingly permeating the public sector including international organizations.

7. Thus it is not surprising that many international organizations have embarked on a thorough review of their human resources management in order to enhance its effectiveness. It is well known that the most important resource of any organization is its employees. Consequently, improved human resources management is essential to the effective delivery of high-quality programme results. In this connection, empowerment of managers coupled with enhanced accountability is seen as a means to achieve this objective. Interestingly all stakeholders, namely employees, management and the governing bodies, all stress the importance of the availability of an efficient accountability mechanism.

8. The aforementioned transformations can be accomplished most effectively by involving staff and their representatives in the process. FAO recognizes that staff representatives play a key role in the consideration of conditions of employment. The Organization will continue to foster staff-management collaboration in this area through consultation with the recognized staff bodies. In this connection regular meetings are held with staff representatives and, staff and management have the opportunity to add or comment on items for discussion on the agenda. In addition staff are consulted and provided the opportunity to comment on papers being presented to the Human Resources Management Committee (HRC) (see Part III below).

9. In this context of changing environment and human resources management practices, FAO's human resources policies are being directed towards the following main objectives:

III. Human Resources Management Reforms

10. This part outlines the status of implementation of human resources management reforms in the following areas: establishment of an advisory body on human resources management policies, accountability of line managers, changing role of the central human resources function, human resources planning, recruitment and retention of staff, supportive work environment, performance management, career development, staff development, human resources management information, and streamlining of rules and procedures.


11. In 2000 the Director-General established a Human Resources Committee, chaired by the Deputy Director-General and comprising all departmental heads and heads of independent offices. The role of this Committee is to provide policy and strategic advice to the Director-General on human resources management issues. It is the vehicle by which human resources reforms are being steered through the Organization.

12. The Committee is seized with a variety of human resources management policy issues covering both general service and professional staff. For example, the Committee considered proposals to modernize and update general service job roles and functions and the challenging subject of career development in an Organization that is engaged in post reduction. In the professional area the HRC has commenced a review of the recruitment process with the intention of making it more efficient and timely. A detailed discussion of efforts to improve recruitment is set out below.


13. An integral part of human resources management reform is to establish clearly the respective roles and accountability of line managers and the central human resources management function. Increasingly, as line managers are held accountable for programme results, there is a requirement for corresponding responsibility for management of resources to achieve these programme results. Through the progressive decentralization of human resources management, programme managers have become more responsible for the day-to-day management of their staff. Further progress in this direction would be facilitated by the establishment of clear work objectives and performance standards for monitoring achievements and strengthened resources management information system for regular reporting on progress achieved as indicated below (see Performance Management and Management Information).


14. The central human resources function no longer deals with the day-to-day management of staff which is now the prerogative of the line managers. It links the human resources management function with FAO's strategic directions and programme priorities and presents the human resources needs of the Organization in terms of where it is now and where it should be in the future. Viewed in this context, the central human resources management office will focus on designing new policies and strategies to meet changing situations, providing guidance and support to departments, independent offices and the field offices, and monitoring the application of human resources policies.


15. Human resources planning involves having a clear idea on the demand side (i.e. the identification and planning of organizational human resources requirements, programme needs, staff turnover, demographic trends, budget forecasts, etc.) of what is needed by way of types and numbers of skills and then determining on the supply side, how these skills will be provided through factors such as the internal deployment and development of skills, availability within the market of skills and competencies required. This process also involves issues of organizational planning such as the review of work roles and design of jobs for these roles.

Undisplayed Graphic

16. As regards the aforementioned "demand side", the aging of the staff is one of the major issues that FAO is currenly facing. Almost 45% of the staff members in all categories (Director, Professional and General Service) are above the age of 50 and more than 20% are beyond the age of 55. As a result, the average age among professional staff members in grades P1 to P5 has risen steadily to reach 48 years (as of 30 June 2001); it is 55 years for staff members at senior levels (D1 to DDG); and 47 years for staff in the General Service category. Consequently, a large number of staff members are expected to retire over the next five years. As can be seen from the chart below, 65% of the staff members at senior levels (D1 to DDG) and more than 25% of the staff in professional categories will reach either the age of mandatory retirement or the age of 55 or more with more than 25 years of service during the period 2001-2006.

17. Such a demographic profile, combined with evolving programmes requiring new skills, call for careful human resources planning and for a rejuvenation of the human resources of the secretariat. In order to establish an integrated human resources planning system that specifies human resources needs at the level of individual departments, the Personnel Division will meet with each department to agree on departmental human resources action plans which will cover for a specific period of time such areas as succession planning, required competencies, filling of vacant posts, geographical and gender representation, mobility, performance appraisal, staff development, etc. Departmental action plans will serve both as a monitoring tool and also as a mechanism of accountability to ensure compliance with the overall corporate goals of the Organization.

18. Further progress in human resources planning on the "supply side" will include the development of a skills inventory for all existing staff, which will provide the Organization and each department with an overview of the workforce, including information on its skills, experience, background and career aspirations, by means of a comprehensive electronic database. It will serve as an objective basis for assessing the existing skills of staff to be matched to departmental needs, evaluating gaps in personnel resources and assessing candidates for vacancies, transfers, training and specialized assignments.

19. To complement the aforementioned human resources action plans and to underpin them, a global human resources management information system (Oracle HR) is being introduced (see "Management Information" below).


Professional Staff

20. FAO as an aging organization has been losing large numbers of staff through either early or mandatory retirement. At the same time the number of appointments made has not kept pace with departures as can be seen from the table below.

  1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 Av. No.
Professional separations 295 248 188 172 143 130 133 188
No. of appointments made 127 91 198 104 125 98 106 108

21. These figures indicate that professional separations are outstripping professional appointments. This has resulted in an increasing number of vacant professional posts despite a reduction in overall posts over recent years.

Professional posts vacant

  1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 Average
Vacancies 191 232 251 212 193 178 200 208
Percentage of total posts 14.8 18.5 20.4 18.1 16.5 15.1 17.1 17.2

22. Our projection is that over the next three and half years, FAO will need to replace some 270 professional and higher categories staff resulting from mandatory retirements. Together with the current vacancy levels this will amount to over 470 posts or over 130 recruits per annum. A critical element for success in this process will be a further reduction in the time taken to recruit professional staff through our staff selection processes.

23. While the following statistics clearly indicate that there has been a significant improvement, further efforts are needed in order to reach the target goal of completing professional recruitment within a time frame of seven months or 140 workdays [1998: 318; 1999: 304 and 2000: 217 days].

24. The streamlining of recruitment and selection procedures and the elimination of a number of steps, together with the greater use of technology by FAO to post vacancy announcements electronically, to receive applications electronically, to better monitor and follow-up outstanding cases, has without doubt assisted in reducing the time taken to recruit professional staff.

25. Further improvements in the reduction of recruitment time will come from strengthening the services provided by the Personnel Division in the briefing and training of line managers and other staff on selection issues and on the provision of quality advice and assistance to both the Professional Staff Selection Committee and to line managers.

Young Professionals

26. A careful analysis of the types and numbers of skills required to replace departing staff will be part of FAO's human resources planning. While many middle and senior level posts will require replacement with similar levels of experience and skills, there is also a need to commence recruitment of young professionals at the entry level of the professional category and to provide internal training and development to these staff. This by its nature is a medium to longer-term strategy for rejuvenation of the professional cadre within FAO.

27. Currently the average age of professional and higher categories staff within FAO is 52 years of age. Over the past 4 years the average age of recruitment of professional staff has been as follows:

Average Age of External Recruitment

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
42.8 43.9 42.8 41.9 42.8

28. This indicates that the average age on appointment has been consistently about 42-43 years of age. Given the level of staff turnover and retirements there is need to start building a longer-term cadre of younger staff through a young professionals programme.

29. This intake of young professional staff will address the corporate goals for a balance in gender as well as in the geographical representation of member states. The young professionals recruitment and development programme will commence in the second half of 2002.

Equitable Geographical Representation

30. In accordance with the UN Charter, FAO places great importance in its recruitment programmes on ensuring that appointments of qualified persons to the secretariat also reflect an equitable geographical representation.

31. As a result of strenuous efforts by the secretariat, the number of non-represented countries has decreased from 54 countries as at 1 January 1994 to 22 countries as at 30 April 2001, despite an increase in the membership of FAO from 169 to 180.

The non-represented countries are distributed as follows:

South Pacific Middle East and Gulf Eastern Europe Caribbean Africa Others
5 4 5 2 3 3

32. Continuing efforts are being made to identify qualified candidates from nationals of non-represented countries, including recruitment missions targeted on these areas.

33. As of today a total of 13 countries are still under-represented1. FAO's strategy to address the under-representation of these countries covers a number of activities including recruitment missions and the establishment of a young professionals programme (see above).

Improving gender balance

34. The total number of women in both the professional and higher categories is 300 or 22% of the staff in these categories as at 1 June 2001.

  P-1 P-2 P-3 P-4 P-5 D-1 D-2 ADG
Female 3 45 96 89 44 14 6 3
Male 0 43 162 343 337 130 36 12

Undisplayed Graphic

35. Set out below is a comparative distribution of male and female staff in the professional and higher categories.

36. In November 1999, the FAO Conference adopted a resolution which, amongst other matters, "requested the Director-General to continue actively to redress geographical and gender imbalances in the Professional and Higher Categories staff structure ...".

37. FAO has established a target that women should represent 35% of all professional and higher category staff. An analysis of projected retirements, together with current vacancy levels, indicates that if FAO is to achieve the target of 35% by 2005, and assuming that current post levels remain constant, the number of women employed needs to be doubled (i.e. 307 over 5 years) requiring 65% of all projected vacancies arising over this period to be filled by women.

38. To achieve this outcome it requires a strong commitment from all levels of the Organization, from divisional management, supported by the Division of Personnel, to top management. At present the responsibility for achievement of this target is diffused and thus not fully owned by line management. This is an important issue as the Organization needs to be clear in terms of who is responsible for ensuring that this target is met. While departmental targets were established in 1999, these are being updated to ensure that collectively they will result in the Organization reaching the 35% level. The Personnel Division will monitor and assist, through specialized recruitment support, line managers in identifying sources of recruitment to increase the size of qualified applicant pools.

39. FAO currently runs a very large and complex recruitment programme which seeks to select highly qualified staff taking account of multiple factors. These include technical competence, geographical representation and gender balance. At any point in time and in any particular selection it can be difficult to balance all these elements. FAO is thus concentrating on increasing the number of women candidates particularly in those professional areas with few women professionals and at the same time using such programmes as the young professionals recruitment programme to target women candidates from under-represented countries.

40. A recent internal study of the factors impacting on women's employment in FAO reported that the most commonly raised issue was the absence of policies on work/family life issues and in particular the question of spouse employment. This would appear to be not only a barrier to recruitment that disproportionately affects women, but also it also affect the ongoing retention of professional staff. While we lack adequate quantitative and qualitative data on the reasons for turnover of women staff, the experience in comparable organizations, which have studied this issue, indicates that these elements are key factors.

General Service Staff

41. The impact of technology, new organizational work requirements and demographic trends has changed the nature and environment for general service work, creating a need for the redefinition of work roles.

42. At the same time over the past 7 years there has been a major reduction in general service jobs, particularly at Headquarters (602 or 31.2%). In addition, retirement forecasts indicate that there could be further major reductions of general service staff over the next four years.

43. As a consequence, work is underway to restructure the general service category in order to develop new job roles and also to provide better career development opportunities for this category of staff.

44. A key to career development for general service staff is the modernizing of the general service jobs and work structures, in order to allow for the recognition of the higher level roles and functions that many general service staff have already assumed whilst at the same time ensuring that the FAO gains longer term benefits in productivity and quality of work performed.

45. To date, the key trends driving this change have been budget pressures requiring the Organization to do more with less. The use of technology which is transforming the roles and work of clerical, keyboard and administrative support functions and organizational needs requires increased flexibility in staff deployment.

46. These trends present opportunities to review and restructure the way administrative support functions are delivered, while at the same time improving career development opportunities for this category of staff. A review of the work to be done and the redesigned roles emerging from both the review of the general service and of temporary staffing arrangements have identified the skills and competencies required in the future to undertake these roles.


47. In order to be able to attract and retain the staff of the highest standard of efficiency and technical competence that it needs, FAO must maintain a work environment which recognizes work/family issues as a priority for employees. Human resources management strategies need to reflect this enhanced importance and in planning the rejuvenation of the FAO workforce, such issues as spouse employment, teleworking, part-time work, etc. must be part and parcel of that plan. A number of measures have been instituted at FAO, such as part-time employment for staff at Headquarters.

48. A policy on breastfeeding has been recently introduced to help nursing-mothers. It was also decided to grant special leave to parents adopting a child. Some other initiatives are currently being developed to make the use of special leave without pay for family reasons more flexible, to allow staff members in some cases to telework and to authorize the employment of spouses under specific conditions.


49. A key goal of the human resources reform efforts is to create a fair, equitable, transparent and measurable system of performance management that supports the development of a management culture of responsibility and accountability.

50. Over the course of the next biennium 2002/2003, the Division of Personnel will work in collaboration with the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Evaluation and departmental managers, to improve and link more closely the individual performance plans to the Organization's programme plan, and hence strengthen the current performance management process. A revised system will identify individual objectives and expected results linked to approved programme objectives, career development and training needs, and managerial skills requirements.

51. Initiatives aimed at improving performance will include mechanisms for identifying poor performance in order to take corrective measures while, at the same time, focusing on excellent performance and how to sustain the motivation for such performance.


52. Career development is concerned with ensuring that the need of the Organization to have the right staff in the right place at the right time is linked to the needs and aspirations of staff for meaningful work and careers. Thus it is a key area of activity for meeting staffing needs.

53. Career development entails the planning of careers by staff with an understanding of what the Organization expects of them, as well as of their own aspirations and abilities. Career development thus involves personal responsibility for one's own career coupled with organizational responsibility for providing an enabling environment.

54. It covers a range of aspects such as the development of skills and competencies in the current job, the development of new skills and experience through lateral mobility and the recognition of staff performance through promotion.

55. The implementation of a comprehensive and integrated programme of career development is an objective of both FAO management and staff. As already indicated this process has already commenced for the general service category with an analysis of workforce needs and a review of job roles and structures.


56. Staff development programmes are designed and delivered to support both present and emerging skills requirements of the Organization. They are based on annual divisional staff development plans through which line managers and staff identify their staff development needs.

57. The Organization has made a significant investment in training in the areas of office technology in support of FAO-wide automation efforts and in the maintenance and development of the language skills of staff. The value of training to support staff mobility has been particularly important, when, in response to a drastic reduction in the number of budgetary posts, it became necessary to undertake a major redeployment of staff. The career and competency development requirements of general service staff are being supported as part of the overall staff development programme.

58. For professional staff, the need to maintain and develop further a strong programme of continuing professional and technical skills development remains a key priority through the use of the External Training Programme and attendance at seminars and other professional development activities.

59. Management development will become a higher priority for FAO over the medium-term, particularly in light of:

60. Finally a shift toward providing greater support and assistance in staff development and training matters to the decentralized offices is underway. New distance learning methods will be designed to support staff in the field.


61. Action already initiated in past biennia to fully integrate information systems in support of the management process will continue to be pursued. Such systems are seen as essential tools to underpin accountability mechanisms, which are to be gradually implemented. In the field of human resources, the replacement of PERSYS by Oracle HR will be a priority. The new system will facilitate the management of human resources, while maintaining the quality and reliability of transaction processing as currently provided by PERSYS.


62. The increasing devolution of responsibility for the day-to-day management of staff to line managers requires the simplification and streamlining of rules and procedures applicable to staff. The current rules governing the terms and conditions of service at FAO are numerous, minute and often overly prescriptive. With time, they came to be disseminated from different sources in various documents, which too often renders them difficult to access and understand. Effective, transparent and fair human resources management by line managers requires a set of staff rules that are readily accessible, easy to understand and to apply.

63. This is why considerable efforts are being made to consolidate these rules into a comprehensive set of simple norms that can be easily accessed by line managers and staff members through the Intranet system. For example, a new contractual arrangement called "Personal Services Agreements" is being introduced to replace the previous four types of contracts: Reimbursable Loan Agreements, Special Services Agreements, Employment of National Professional Project Personnel and Author Contracts.

64. A systematic review of all documentation regarding existing rules and procedures will be initiated in the coming year. At the same time efforts to make rules and procedures progressively available on-line through the Intranet system will be pursued.

IV. Conclusion

65. As can be seen from the foregoing, the Organization has embarked on an ambitious plan of human resources management reforms and revitalization that is intended to carry FAO forward into the new millenium with qualified staff that forms a corps of dedicated international civil servants in the best traditions of the United Nations system. The Organization will ensure that human resources management reforms described above are inspirited by, and consonant with, the ethical standards guiding international civil servants in all their actions. These standards, which were recently revised and updated by the ICSC, will continue to be given full recognition at FAO. In particular, the concepts of integrity, competence and efficiency which are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the FAO Constitution, will continue to be given paramount consideration in the recruitment and retention of staff.

66. Many of the changes outlined in the present report are far-reaching and will require time and adequate resources in order to be fully implemented. The Director-General is wholly committed to the successful implementation of the reform process and looks forward to the support of Member States for his efforts to further strengthen human resources management in the Organization.

1 Austria, Brazil, China, Germany, Israel, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, United States