Employee Turnover Isn't a Surprise in Peace Corps -- It's Mandatory

Chances are these execs will be gone in five years or less. The Peace Corps' limit on staff tenure makes managing turnover an art form.

Ed Anderson's office screams "short-timer."

The white walls are spare. There's a huge poster of the Kingdom of Lesotho -- a gift from his secretary -- and his daughters' crayon drawings of butterflies mounted with tape. After all, there is no time to focus on how the place looks. Anderson, CIO of the U.S. Peace Corps, will almost certainly leave his job less than two years from now.

Many of Anderson's staff of 146 are planning their exits. This spring, the expert in charge of upgrading the organization's intranet is scheduled to leave. At the end of the year, out goes one of his specialists in application systems development. Anderson's top lieutenants have a little more time on the clock. His head of operations has an employment contract that lasts until the fall of next year with an option to renew for another 30 months; and his director of application systems isn't due to leave until the spring of 2009.

Of course, turnover has always been part of IT. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2000 and 2005, the information industry hired one-fourth to one-third of its workforce each year.

But at the Peace Corps, employee turnover has a twist: Here Anderson has the curse and the blessing of knowing when everyone on his staff is likely to quit the agency. That's because, according to the 1965 Peace Corps Act, almost every agency employee -- even Anderson -- must leave after five years. Many leave after three or four, often for other international aid organizations, including the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and various nonprofits. Some switch jobs internally more often than that.

It is all laid out in an ominous chart that Anderson whips out for visitors. On the left side are the names of everyone in IT. On the right, color-coded lines show how long each person has worked for "the Corps," as staff members call it, whether they are on their first or their second "tour" -- a 30-month appointment -- and how long until the law says they must leave.

Around the Peace Corps building, this law is known as "the five-year rule." It was designed to constantly infuse the agency with fresh people and ideas, and Anderson says that it does. In fact, a significant percentage of his staff are former volunteers who can testify firsthand to the staff's needs in the field. (Their field service does not count as part of the five-year rule as an IT worker.)

This was first published in February 2007

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