The issue of mobility has been a major source of discussion for staff of the UN Secretariat, where a new proposal is being discussed, but also in the Funds and Programmes and specialized agencies where the incentives for staff to be mobile are being discussed.

Our Staff Union, together with other staff unions of the Secretariat, organized a survey of staff of the UN Secretariat. A total of 1414 people completed the questionnaire and expressed their opinions about the mobility policy of the UN and the idea of job rotation. (full report here)

Within the UN Secretariat the mobility issue is strongly linked to the continuing contract. The management is very keen on geographical mobility and aims to establish mobility requirements for all staff members. Currently the mobility system of the UN is on hold. The most important thing is to implement a framework under which the demanded mobility can take place. One of the main issues is how to consider staff in specialized functions and staff in rather transferable functions. Another issue is the transparency of the recruitment of staff. According to the survey, many employees feel treated in an unfair way and require more fairness and transparency. A proposal for this problem would be to establish a centralized management for mobility, with transparent recruitment and selection criteria.

The mains issued that mentioned by those who participated in the survey were:


The survey made clear that the main difficulties are the work-life issues. If the moving person has family, some issues occur automatically. In dual-career families the spouse will most likely lose his or her employment and if there are children, they have to be taken out of their familiar environment into a new infrastructure. As well adequate housing has to be found. If the moving person has to go to a hardship duty station it has to happen without the family sometimes, due to the danger in the country. Improvements should be made in terms of the host country agreements: spouses should be enabled to work and for family members it should be possible to remain in the country when the staff member is at another duty station temporarily. Many respondents of the survey pointed out that occurring work-life issues are not get recognized by the agency.


Employees cannot be entirely sure that a geographical movement benefits their career. If they are moved to a hardship duty station they never know what happens after the end of their contract period. Staff also do not know whether the move will benefit or hinder their career. Many employees feel threatened that there will be no work for them at the UN after they complete a mission assignment.

Loss of experience and expertise

The negative sides of staff mobility do not only affect the staff members who have to move. It also affects the Management, because when the employees have to change their positions every five years, expertise gets lost. It is also questionable if it is effective that people do not work in the fields and areas in which they have expertise.

Additional costs

The high mobility desired within the UN system causes additional costs. The rotated employees have to be trained in their new tasks and it takes time until they are working as their as their predecessors.

Competition and recruitment procedures

The placing of applicants is competitive. That means that eventually former colleagues have to compete with each other, which will disturb the corporate feeling of the employees.  Many people have the feeling that the recruitment process is not transparent and that favouritism plays a big part in terms of vacancy announcements and relocations.

Standard of living

Qualify of life is likely to be affected by mobility. Moving to a hardship duty station has a significant impact on quality of life and staff pointed to security conditions and arrangements in the various countries.

General problems with the UN mobility policy.

  1. No forecast for the financial implications of the implementation of the mobility policy has been made.
  2. Despite current and planned initiatives, there are no mechanisms in place for knowledge management and knowledge sharing to prevent the potential loss of institutional memory due to increased mobility.
  3. There is a lack of a clear analysis of the Organization's needs regarding mobility to determine what type of skills, when and where they are required, coupled with a detailed inventory of current staff skills and competencies available by location.
  4. Despite certain initiatives planned or being put in place, there are not enough incentive mechanisms to encourage staff to move.

Read about the latest development on the issue of mobility here.

©2019 UNOV Staff Union