Public servants bullied but satisfied

Last updated 05:00 06/09/2013

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Public servants are proud of their jobs but not the organisations they work for, a survey has found.

Jointly undertaken by Victoria University and the Public Service Association, the survey also revealed a lack of respect for managers who favour politics over facts, and a high rate of bullying.

Almost 16,000 association members from 349 public sector organisations responded.

Workers were generally satisfied with their jobs, mostly because they believed they were making a difference to society.

A fifth felt insecure in their role, with 30 per cent stating they had been bullied in the workplace in the past six months.

Unpaid overtime was also flagged as a problem, with slightly more than half of respondents working an average of six more hours a week.

Project Leader Geoff Plimmer said employees were ambivalent about their managers, viewing them as often basing decisions on politics rather than facts.

"The State Services Commission's new focus on results, leadership and stewardship is to be commended, but the commission has a hard road ahead of it," he said.

"Although some agencies are trying to change, they are hindered by weak leadership and change management skills amongst public sector executives."

Associate Professor Jane Bryson, who was also part of the research team, said the highest-rated organisations tended to be those further away from central government.

"The best organisations managed business but also were flexible and that's quite a difficult feat in the public sector because often the focus is on business as usual and not embarrassing the minister."

But the minister responsible for the state services sector, Jonathan Coleman, said the survey suggested that public servants expected their departments to work more effectively and responsively, exactly what the Government was trying to achieve.

Recent legislative changes were aimed at delivering better public services and the commission was working with chief executives to improve leadership.

"Change can be difficult but it offers opportunities for innovation and I'm confident that New Zealanders will see the benefits of that in frontline services."

Mr Coleman noted that the survey included only association members, who made up 5 per cent of the state sector workforce.

Association president Brenda Pilott said organisations could buy data relating to their own staff who had completed the anonymous survey, and several had already indicated they wished to do so, which was encouraging.

Workers were often frustrated by the structures and procedures that stopped them doing a job and she encouraged organisations to listen to feedback from the front line, rather than a top-down approach.

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District Health Boards

-Have clearer organisational goals

-Have clearer processes

-Report greater cross-unit co-operation

-Report more clarity with employees' job objectives

-Report higher levels of commitment


Large, central government agencies

-Have relatively poor performance improvement framework

-Have experienced frequent restructurings in recent years

-Report more work overload

-Report less employment security

-Report greater instances of bullying 

- The Dominion Post

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