Tabloid mole working in a mad, Mad public service world

By The Mandarin

January 7, 2016

Working in the New South Wales public service is like “stepping on to the set of Mad Men“, according to a tabloid mole offering stereotype after stereotype to readers over their Weet-Bix this morning.

The “faceless bureaucrat” working in the “bowels” of the state bureaucracy has penned a wisely anonymous screed for The Advertiser today (an Adelaide paper, oddly) — republished on News Corporation tabloid websites around the country — which will have public servants shaking their heads in recognition and disappointment.

After being made redundant from a “large multinational organisation”, this loose-lipped bureaucrat says entering the public service “felt like I had gone back decades in a time machine” — “handling reams of paperwork, lewd jokes, and an outsized gossip-to-work ratio”.

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Among the anecdotes, there’s the watching-the-clock narrative:

“During my first week, a colleague charged past my desk, where I was in conversation with our boss. ‘What, are youse stayin’ back or something?’ he asked. I let out a polite laugh in response before realising he was genuine. But there was no time for further conversation: it was 4:01pm, and the front door was closing behind him.”

On handling complaints:

“When it comes to actually serving the public, the customer is never right. Staff, for obvious reasons, don’t advertise the internal escalation process for complaints: aggrieved citizens are routinely told to write to their local MP if they are dissatisfied with the service they receive.

Staff rostering:

“Relations between staff and management are primarily managed by way of tactical sick leave. If someone is rostered on to a duty they dislike, or if they are unhappy with the workload, they will take sick leave at the most inconvenient time to show their displeasure.

“Sometimes, groups of staff take pre-planned sick leave on one day as a form of paid strike. It comes at no personal cost to them, however, as flex-leave ensures they get plenty of time off, and management doesn’t seek to reprimand or resolve such behaviour.”

The lack of communication:

“We often read of policy changes affecting the department in the newspaper before they are communicated to us, while simple interpersonal communications are sent by email from a desk only metres away.”

Botched decisions:

“As with all workplaces, mistakes are made, but the absence of accountability and oversight sees monumental errors, such as a paroled murderer given clearance to work in an unsupervised role with the general public.”

And dealing with ministers:

“Ministerial visits strike fear into the heart of the operation, with indoor plants shoved into a storeroom and staff at times invited to go home early. It would be difficult to know if the ministers are baffled by the lack of staff and budget line items for non-existent plants, as it is rare to see the same minister for more than two consecutive visits.”

The mole says his experience “confirmed many of the cliches that exist around government services”.

So how right are they …?

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