14 August 2023

Gayathiri Ganeshan joined the Public Service almost by accident. She's never looked back.

Joining the Public Service was a bit of a lucky accident for Gayathiri Ganeshan.

What was meant to just be a summer job has turned into nearly a decade-long career.

“I was only ever intending to be a public servant for about 3-4 months,” she says.

After studying criminology at the University of Auckland, Gayathiri took on a summer internship at the Ministry of Justice in 2014.

While there, she got a close-up look at a kaupapa Māori and restorative justice programme that helped keep people from entering the criminal justice system.

“What I witnessed was so tangible and powerful, and the outsized results and outcomes achieved for the people involved was eye-opening,” she says.

"I didn't go back to uni after that.”

Instead, Gayathiri joined the Ministry of Justice as an advisor, and over the past eight years has worked in a number of roles in the Public Service, including a secondment at the Crown Law Office.

From 2018 to 2022, she worked in the Workplace Relations and Safety Policy branch at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, first as a senior policy advisor, then principal policy advisor.

She says she enjoyed the challenge in those roles of identifying problems people were facing, coming up with solutions, then helping those solutions become law.

Now, as Director of Strategic Initiatives in the Employment Services branch, the focus is much more operational, which is a new challenge she is enjoying.

Gayathiri says Employment Services exists to support good employment relationships, meaning both employers and employees benefit in a number of ways.

For starters, this means people know how to get employment right, and where to get help if they need it. If they get in touch, they get good advice, including being alerted to free services that can help resolve workplace issues quickly and informally. Finally, if the issue is serious or can't be resolved easily, people will be confident that the issue will be investigated or escalated to a tribunal, and action taken if necessary.

“Everyone deserves to have good working relationships, and get what they are entitled to,” says Gayathiri.

One of Gayathiri's latest challenges is developing a strategy to help frontline staff identify how their work connects with and complements the work of other teams across the employment regulator, known as Employment NZ, Employment Mediation Services, and the Labour Inspectorate.

It's a big job, but offers big opportunities for improving the experiences of people using the services.

For Gayathiri, that's what motivates her.

“When I tell people what I do, I say I work for New Zealand's employment regulator, and that our job is about making the employment system as successful as possible – for both employers and employees.

“By doing that, we can make a positive difference in people's working lives.”

During the Covid pandemic, Gayathiri drew on her leadership and influencing skills to lead cross-government policy work on the Alert Level system, essential services, vaccine purchasing, and workplace vaccination issues.

That resulted in her being named as a finalist in the 2022 Spirit of Service Awards, which recognise public servants and initiatives that exemplify the spirit of service and demonstrate an outstanding commitment to New Zealand.

In her citation she was praised as collaborative, constructive, and motivated to make the world a better place.

Gayathiri says she proudly calls herself a public servant.

“The hint is in the name, isn't it. We are here to serve the public. That's what it's all about.”

Spirit of Service Awards 2023


This year's Te Hāpai Hapori | Spirit of Service Awards takes place on 16 August at Te Papa.

Check out our awards pages for more information about the awards and finalists.

Find out more