See also media statement 'Survey of Integrity and Conduct in the State Services'
State Services Commissioner's Foreword
The 2013 Integrity and Conduct survey is the third Integrity and Conduct survey run by the State Services Commission since 2007. It looks at factors that directly and indirectly influence integrity and behaviour in State services agencies today, and which will shape how our agencies perform into the future.
The New Zealand State services are rated highly for their standards of integrity and conduct at the international level, and are considered to be one of the most transparent public services in the world.
New Zealand consistently places in the top five for the Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2013, New Zealand was ranked first in the International Budget Partnership's biannual Open Budget Survey of 182 countries. New Zealand, along with the USA and three Scandinavian countries, was also placed in the top five in the Open Data Barometer in 2013.
These high standards of integrity and transparency are a core part of the value proposition that the New Zealand State services offers. Our high standards are now seen as a key part of the New Zealand "brand".
New Zealanders benefit from these high standards in all sorts of ways. These include ease of interactions with public services, helping attract foreign investment, and maintaining the integrity and high value of the New Zealand export sector.
The 2013 survey results affirm the high standards of integrity and conduct for which the New Zealand State services are known.
But reputations like ours are hard won and easily lost.
We must work deliberately to maintain and strengthen our standing as a politically neutral, high performing and professional State services. We must sharpen our focus in order to sustain areas where we are strong, and make informed changes in areas that are challenging.
These areas requiring our sharp focus are:
- managing behaviours, including good and poor performance, and breaches of the Standards of Integrity and Conduct;
- leading agency integrity, including systems and processes such as staff induction and building a sound and supportive culture;
- managing change more effectively; and
- ensuring transparent and fair appointments processes with appropriate opportunities for career development.
Sustaining and improving performance in these areas requires strong leadership. This is why SSC puts considerable emphasis on developing and supporting agency leaders as a cadre. We believe this is critical for achieving high integrity, as well as a higher performance culture. We do this through working with chief executives to implement the State Sector Leadership Strategy. The Strategy emphasises and reinforces the behaviours that are critical to building strong leadership.
In addition, the Commission is working with senior HR leaders across agencies. We are working to ensure HR teams are sharing best practice and fostering awareness of the integrity and conduct obligations of State servants. We are also ensuring agencies are aware of the support available to enhance agency practices, in areas such as staff inductions and promotion of integrity guidance. Eighty two percent of public servants say they are familiar with their agency's code of conduct, and this is a sound result. However, there appear to be good opportunities to strive for greater consistency of awareness across agencies, particularly in the Health sector.
While staff of DHBs rate their sense of personal accomplishment with their work highest of all of the survey respondents, the 2013 results continue a worrying trend apparent in the 2007 and 2010 survey results. Just over half of DHB staff consider that their agency promotes integrity and conduct matters and only 38% rate their induction in integrity, conduct, and ethics as good. The DHB sector results are disappointing in comparison with those of the other types of agencies. We will be ensuring that the Ministry of Health works with the District Health Boards and chief executives to support them to take a deliberate and conscientious approach to strengthening the systems and culture that drive high standards of behaviour.
Importantly, there is also still a clear need for agencies to better prevent bullying in our State sector workplaces. Once again the survey found that we must improve our systems and culture for reporting bullying and other breaches. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and WorkSafe NZ have recently published comprehensive guidance about how to deal with bullying. There has been change to existing practices to support early attention and resolution of bullying complaints by WorkSafe NZ's Inspectorate. MBIE is also now promoting its employment mediation service, to support staff and managers in building better workplace behaviours.
Positively responding to these challenges requires us to continue to improve our information about integrity and behaviours. The survey provides us with invaluable insights into the current state of the system. The Commission will continue to focus attention on how to ensure that we have the right information to meet the integrity challenges of the future.
It always takes courage to turn a mirror on ourselves, as this survey does. Strengthening trust and integrity is a collective effort, and responsibility is shared by all agency leaders and their staff. As State servants, we all have a responsibility to understand and operate to the required standards, to act when we see breaches, and to develop our professional careers to best serve the public. State servants must also be able to work in a safe environment, where they can make a positive difference, so that we can continue to deliver high quality public services to New Zealanders.
State Services Commissioner
The 2013 Integrity and Conduct Survey provides an overall assessment of integrity and conduct in the State services. The survey findings are drawn from a survey of 13,395 staff members in 40 agencies. The new 2013 survey questionnaire reflects the efforts of the State Services Commission to continuously improve the quality and usefulness of the information about integrity and conduct it collects. Integrity in the State services is a broad concept that embraces how ethically State servants behave and how effectively State service agencies' integrity frameworks operate - that is, the leadership, culture, policy and processes that support high ethical behaviours in the agency. The survey aims to gauge the perceptions of staff, managers and agency leaders in some key areas relating to integrity and conduct in the State services.
For State Service agencies to sustain high standards of integrity and conduct that deliver better public services, State servants must have a commitment to public service, knowledge of what acting with integrity means, and strong commitment by leaders to building and maintaining a workplace environment, culture and framework that supports and reinforces high integrity behaviours.
The survey results, overall, are largely positive.
The 2013 Integrity and Conduct Survey Report itself does not make recommendations. What the results may mean for each agency has to be considered in the context of the agency's business, other relevant information sources and the agency's own results. Following release of this Report, the SSC will provide suitable, targeted support to agencies to develop and implement any appropriate actions.
The 2013 Survey confirms that high ethical standards and a spirit of service continue to be enduring strengths of New Zealand's State services. State servants continue to be highly motivated to serve the public good, are proud to work for their agencies (76%) and rate the integrity and conduct of their workgroup colleagues (89%) and immediate managers (83%) highly. Most staff regularly go the extra mile in doing work for their agency (81%) and are satisfied that their job allows them to use their knowledge, skills and abilities (86%). A high percentage of staff (87%) reported that they would feel obliged to report suspected wrongdoing if they came across it, although actual reporting is somewhat lower with a number of barriers to reporting identified.
Knowing what acting with integrity means
How to act with high standards of integrity in the State service is conveyed in a broad range of communications that include the Standards of Integrity and Conduct, other authoritative sources of guidance and the agency's policies, codes, induction programmes and promotions. State servants report a high level of familiarity with their agency's code of conduct (83%). However, there is a relatively low level of familiarity with the six other external sources of integrity guidance tested in the survey. While State servants may be most familiar with best practice in relation to integrity and conduct through their own agencies' policy and processes, only 29% of State servants report they are familiar with the Standards of Integrity and Conduct. Twenty-four percent are familiar with the Ombudsman's Official Information Act guidelines, 18% with SSC's political neutrality guidance and 15% with the Office of the Auditor-General's Conflicts of Interest Guidance for Public sector entities. A low 13% are familiar with the Ombudsman's Protected Disclosures guidance, 10% of public servants are familiar with the Cabinet Manual and only 16% of State servants may have heard of the State Service Commission's integrity and conduct helpline.
Two thirds (67%) of State servants agree that they know where to get good advice about integrity and conduct issues. The relatively low level of familiarity with some key sources of guidance tested suggests there is good potential to improve this perception.
Promoting high standards of integrity and conduct through induction processes and promotion received mixed results suggesting that more attention could make a real difference to State servants. While nearly half of staff (47%) agree that their agency provides good induction on ethics, integrity and conduct, 24% disagree. A higher percentage consider that their agency actively promotes integrity and conduct (62%). However, 18% disagree and a further 20% are ambivalent about the agency's promotion of integrity and conduct. Staff in DHBs and Other Crown Entities are less likely to consider that their agency provides good induction and promotes integrity and conduct.
Strengthening integrity from the top is a key part of agency leaders' stewardship responsibilities and a key part of driving value in the State services. The survey results indicate that areas of relative strength for State service leaders include strategy (working to prepare the agency for future challenges - 54% agree), providing staff with a flexible and supportive environment, communicating vision (55% agree) and encouraging collaboration and teamwork (56% agree).
Leaders play a critical role in championing integrity in the workplace. Aspects of leadership that can influence levels of integrity in the agency that are perceived positively by staff include that 80% of State servants consider their job gives them a personal sense of satisfaction and 76% are proud to work in their agency. At the other end of the spectrum, fewer than half (45%) of staff agree that their agency understands the importance and benefits of having an effective internal disclosures process (while 8% disagree and 19% do not know). While the Protected Disclosures Act 2002 requires agencies to have a clear and effective internal disclosures process and to re-publish this regularly, only 54% of survey respondents agree that their agency has clear and effective processes to report suspected wrongdoing (18% disagree and 27% are non-committal).
While senior management has a key role in modelling agency behaviours, perceptions of high levels of integrity and conduct of senior management (60% agree) are lower than for immediate workgroups and managers within an agency. While those who don't agree tend to be ambivalent (neither agree nor disagree) or feel unable to answer, rather than to disagree (9% disagree), a lack of familiarity or exposure to senior managers may contribute to this level of agreement. For leaders to be championing high integrity, staff must perceive the integrity of their senior staff positively. Perceptions vary significantly across agency types, from Crown Agents (73% agreement) to DHBs (52% agreement). Agency size may be a factor, as staff working in smaller agencies rate senior management considerably more favourably in this regard (84% agree). There also appears to be a relationship between perceptions of levels of integrity and conduct and perceptions of visibility of leadership, as only 42% of respondents overall agree that senior managers are sufficiently visible.
The survey results indicate some aspects of agency management are not well regarded in general. In general, Just under half (48%) of staff agree that their agency is well managed. Managing change well attracts the least positive results (38% of staff overall agree, while 28% disagree, that change is well managed). Communication may be a factor in these results. Fewer than half of respondents agree that senior managers communicate effectively with staff (43%) or adequately consult on change (43%). While 44% of staff agree that senior management motivate staff to help the agency meet its objectives, a further 33% are ambivalent.
Many attributes of the workplace that demonstrate "organisational fairness" and support a culture of high ethical standards are rated well by State servants. For instance, there are high ratings for colleagues co-operating to get the job done (87%), being honest and trustworthy (82%) and respecting each other (83% agree). The relatively low levels of familiarity with some official sources of integrity guidance reported does appear to be reflected in perceptions of how colleagues' understanding in some areas of integrity is perceived. State servants are less confident about agency behaviours with respect to political neutrality (59% agree that people in the agency understand what political neutrality means), and conflicts of interest (43% agree that employees in the agency effectively manage conflicts, while 10% disagree with this).
Merit-based appointments are fundamental to a professional, politically neutral and impartial State service that is trusted by the public it serves. Forty two percent of staff agree and 19% disagree that appointments and promotion in the agency are based on merit and a fair process. Concern about the fairness of appointments and promotions in the agency is also one of the factors identified by staff as influencing decisions to leave the agency.
The State services need to continue to attract and develop a diverse and talented workforce. However, development of the capability and skills of staff is not rated highly across the survey. While 40% agree management takes steps to identify and develop its talented people, 21% disagree with this proposition. Opportunities within the agency for staff to progress their career received the least level of agreement (44%) of the workplace attributes the survey tested. For the 30% of staff who indicated they were likely to leave their agency in the next two years, the three most common influencing factors identified were lack of future career opportunities, lack of recognition for a job well done, and a desire for better remuneration.
Agency management is highly regarded in a number of important respects, including treating staff fairly and respectfully (82%), encouraging collaboration and teamwork (79%) and giving staff the support needed to do a good job (76%). Managers are not rated well for some aspects of performance management. Only 59% of staff feel valued and only 58% feel sufficiently recognised. Managing poor performance is the least well regarded (43% agree while 21% disagree that managers deal appropriately with poor performance). Managing conflict between staff also appears to be an area for strengthening, with 23% of staff reporting that there is often friction or anger between people in their workgroup and 16% disagreeing that their workgroup resolves conflict quickly when it arises.
Bullying and breaches
Previous Integrity and Conduct surveys identified bullying as a significant concern in the State services. The 2013 results confirm that bullying is still a concern, with 25% of State servants considering they have personally experienced bullying or harassment in the last 12 months. When State servants were provided with a list of possible breaches of the Standards of Integrity and Conduct (the Code) and asked whether they had witnessed any of these behaviours in the past 12 months, the two most commonly observed were bullying (observed by 28%) and abusive or intimidating behaviour (23%). Those who state they have been personally bullied or harassed identify colleagues (46%), supervisor/managers (39%) and senior managers (22%) as the three groups most likely to be doing the bullying.
When prompted with a list of a range of behaviours that breach the Code, 47% of State servants indicated they had observed at least one of those behaviours in the past 12 months. While bullying and abusive behaviour were most frequently observed, followed by inappropriate use of internet and e-mail, there were very low levels of most other kinds of misconduct observed. For example, observations of sexual harassment at 1%, leaking of confidential agency information at 2% and improperly favouring a third party at 3%. Only 0.2% report instances of observing a bribe and 53% of respondents did not observe any misconduct.
The results in relation to reporting of Code breaches suggest that agencies could usefully increase their efforts on encouraging State servants to report wrongdoing, ensure that effective action including investigation is taken in response to reports, and that staff who report wrongdoing are protected from adverse consequences for fulfilling their responsibility to report.
While 87% of State servants state that if they witnessed wrongdoing they would personally feel obliged to report it, only 23% of those who observed misconduct in the past 12 months had reported every instance they observed (and 35% reported some but not all). In addition, only 38% of those who felt they were personally bullied did in fact report the last incident of bullying. Barriers to reporting, among those who considered they were bullied, include the perception that constructive action would not be taken (50%), not wanting to upset relationships in the workplace (43%), action had not been taken when bullying was previously reported (19%), and the staff member being afraid that the wrongdoer would take action against him/her (26%).
The results suggest that agencies can do more to improve their processes and increase the level of satisfaction of those who report breaches. They also suggest that monitoring of behaviours in the agency could also be improved to increase awareness and management of integrity risks, as only 43% of managers agree that the agency maintains a good system for recording suspected breaches of integrity and conduct.