Working in the Public Service - here's what people think

Working in the Public Service – here’s what people think

in September we asked our members (and our project partner BusinessDesk asked their subscribers) what they thought about working in the public service – thanks to the 771 people who completed the survey. Most were from Public Service departments (74%) and Crown agents (16%).

Initial results out now

Here’s a preview of just some of the high-level findings about what public servants think in 2022…

About the public service principles:

  • Political neutrality: They say they have a good personal understanding of what it means to be a politically neutral public servant (97% agree with this statement) and most people believe their organisational leaders would act to prevent politicised advice or politically inappropriate actions by staff (86% agree with this statement).
  • Free and frank advice is believed to be modelled by leaders within their organisation (74% agree with this statement). Two-thirds said they could give their best advice without having to worry whether it would be popular within their organisation or with the Government.
  • Merit-based appointment: Most believe that people in their organisation get jobs and promotions based on merit (62% agree with this statement; 32% disagree; 6% don’t know). Similar results were evident with respect to their confidence that appointments in central government are merit based (60% agree; 29% disagree; 11% don’t know).
  • Open government: People were evenly split about whether their organisation has a tendency to hide or make a problem or failure look better than it is (45% agree with this statement; 47% disagree; 8% don’t know) – and most felt that their organisation is genuinely open-minded when it engages or consults with the public (70% agree with this statement). Most believed that their organisation practices and promotes the letter and spirit of the OIA (74% agree with this statement; 13% disagree; 13% didn’t know).
  • Stewardship: More people felt that their agency finds the right balance between short-term priorities and longer-term progress and stewardship (53% agree with this statement) compared with not (39% disagree) and 8% said they didn’t know.

About their workplace:

  • Satisfaction with their work-life balance was reported as 59% satisfied or very satisfied, 26% dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, and 15% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.
  • Most said they have a good or very good working relationship with their colleagues (90%) and their direct manager (80%).
  • Many had found their work stressful in the last 12 months – sometimes (42%), often (42%) or always (7%) – with 9% reporting never or hardly ever.

About bullying and harassment:

  • In the past 12 months, 22% reported having been personally bullied or harassed in their workplace (comprising 17% ‘now and again’ and 5% ‘more frequently than now and again’).
  • Most people who had been bullied or harassed did not report it (63%).
  • The main two reasons given for not reporting were that they did not think any constructive action would be taken, and it was not worth the hassle of going through the report process.

More results will be available in the coming months, including comparisons of 2022 survey data with earlier surveys, so we can tell how much public servants views have changed (or not).

IPANZ will utilise these survey results to inform debate about the topics raised in the survey – you can expect to hear more through articles in the Public Sector Journal, seminars and panel discussions, and so forth.

More information about the survey

What is the survey about?

The survey provides an independent picture of working in central government, supplying data about how public service principles are put into practice and aspects of the workplace (including work/life balance, workplace relationships and bullying/harassment).

Much of the survey builds on previous research that IPANZ and BusinessDesk believe is valuable to update in order to understand changes over time. This includes studies by university researchers Chris Eichbaum (Victoria University of Wellington) and Richard Shaw (Massey University), as well as surveys previously conducted by government agencies (Statistics NZ, the State Services Commission and the Public Service Commission).

What is the origin of this survey?

The survey is part of BusinessDesk’s public sector project, which was established with taxpayer support from NZ on Air’s Public Interest Journalism Fund. BusinessDesk partnered with IPANZ in order to ensure the relevance and value of the research.

How will the survey data be used?

The results will be:

  • Publicised through BusinessDesk, outside its paywall so that the results are available to both subscribers and non-subscribers – from Monday 28 November.
  • Written up in the Public Sector journal, which is available to IPANZ members and also non-members via the IPANZ website – in early 2023.
  • Used to inform IPANZ seminars and discussions – in 2023.
  • Available to select academic researchers, who will have access to the anonymised data for further analysis.

Who is involved?

The survey is led by BusinessDesk, a New Zealand news agency, partnering with IPANZ.

Our research partner is Perceptive, a New Zealand firm with long experience in such surveys. Perceptive is bound by the industry’s code of practice and conducted the survey accordingly.

Who completed the survey?

A total of 771 people completed the survey.

An invitation to complete the online survey was emailed to central government employees who were on the BusinessDesk and IPANZ databases. This included people working in the following types of agency:

  • Public Service departments
  • Non-Public Service departments
  • Crown agents
  • Departmental agencies
  • Interdepartmental executive boards
  • Offices of Parliament.

Two reminder emails were sent over the following three weeks. As a privacy measure, the questionnaires were not linked to individual email addresses in the dataset. As a result of this sample method, no weightings to the population of New Zealand public servants were applied, and the results should be interpreted in this context.

How did you choose agencies to include in the survey?

The survey is aimed at organisations that can be thought of as core central government organisations. These are the public service, agencies in the legislative branch, as well as NZ Police, NZ Defence Force and PCO – i.e. those in the upper left of this diagram.

We are calling the survey ‘Working in the Public Service’ as an easy-to-understand title. Though not everyone who responds will technically be a public servant, the concepts covered in our survey apply to all respondents.

Will respondents’ privacy be protected?

Yes. This is required by the Privacy Act and the research industry’s code of practice; it’s also consistent with the values of BusinessDesk and IPANZ.

All data are being held securely and are anonymised. No individual person or agency will be identifiable in the publication of survey results. The focus is the public service, not individual agencies.

Academic researchers will have access to the anonymised dataset with privacy fully protected.

Is this project related to previous surveys such as Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission’s 2021 ‘census’?

This survey is independent of previous surveys. However, some of our research questions are based on previous work by academic researchers and agencies like Statistics NZ and the former State Services Commission, in order to draw comparisons over time.  

IPANZ Media Spokesperson Derek Gill,