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Does the public service drive employees mad?

By LSWCHP 18 July 2012 105

My wife is a career public servant who has been driven to the verge of mental illness over the last few years by her mid-level role in the APS. It’s placed her, our family and our marriage under great stress, which we are still struggling to work through.

Her brother recently left the APS due to stress related mental illness.

Three members of my family have been senior career public servants, and they have all been invalided out due to work related mental illness.

A few weeks ago we met a bloke working in a winery near Murrumbateman who was an ex public servant who’d given the game away due to the inhuman working conditions he had been forced to endure.

Today my wife went on a training course where she met a woman who’d joined the public service late in life in a senior management role after a long career in private enterprise. This person revealed that after a couple of months in the APS she’d found herself alone and sobbing in the toilets at her workplace. She said it felt like she was working in an asylum for the deranged.

I have long experience dealing with senior people from the APS in my professional capacity, and in general the best way to understand any transaction with them is to assume that you are dealing with someone who is suffering from a severe mental disorder such as, depression, sociopathy, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder etc. That’s not always the case, but it happens often enough to be a good guideline.

I could go on and on, because these are just a few of many, many stories that I can relate from my own experience about the dysfunction of the current APS.  In short, the APS seems to be a nightmarish hell-hole where the lunatics are running the asylum, and that sensible people should avoid at all costs if they wish to retain their sanity.

Have me and my friends and family had a bad run? Is the APS actually a workers paradise, but we just haven’t been in the right place at the right time, or is it really as bad as it seems from every piece of evidence I can collect. Are there any happy APS employees out there? I’d be interested in getting the buzz from the RA community, many of whom I believe are members of the APS.


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Does the public service drive employees mad?
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DomAnt 3:14 pm 05 Nov 14

The only people happy are the one that are causing all the grief. It seems the higher up the worse they are. This will continue to be covered up by all up to the Senators and Members because they are scared of the truth. This is costing the Australian taxpayers Billions, and Comcare are the conduit that is used to cover, cut and dump people back in to the public system with out any help. The private sector has a much higher rate of return to work than the APS, and I would say that this would be due to the private sector keeping the employer out of the rehab process. With the APS you have to still deal with the very people that caused the issues to start with and they do not back of with their underhanded ways of dealing with cases. Then when the individual is pushed to the point of no return, Comcare deems that your condition has been made worse by the process, making it a non compensable matter. You are completely cut off and dumped into the public system. The government has no interest in fixing these issue’s. There is currently another senate committee hearing for the third time for the same issues for example

rhino 3:42 pm 17 Aug 12

CanberraBred said :

I think it depends on the department. There is definitely a strong culture in each and sometimes this can be toxic. I have worked in 7 departments so far and have a pretty good overview of public service cultures.

Policy departments are definitely the worst to work in – the executive and people beneath are under enormous pressure to deliver what the Minister wants, even if it is completely ridiculous and unachievable. This results in the promotion of people who are willing to do whatever it takes to please their boss – no matter what the consequences are. The ability to give sensible policy advice is definitely not an asset and you don’t get kudos for having a different opinion.

The absolute worst place I have ever worked is the Federal Department of Health. I think this is probably due to the fact they are a policy department which does practically no policy implementation – they are even further removed from the results of their work than a normal department. When I worked there a lot of my colleagues were on stress leave because it was so awful. I had to quit my job because otherwise I would have gone mad.

I now work for a non-policy department and the difference is amazing. People in general have a lot of pride in their work, and even if they are not happy, there is still the sense that what they are doing is worthwhile.

Thanks for this insight, it’s hard to get access to this kind of experience when you’re outside of it.
Which departments would be more policy based and which ones less policy based? So Health is very policy based. I’m guessing defence is possibly the least policy based, since they just do things rather than making policies on things. Where would other departments fit in this?

Stevian 12:57 pm 24 Jul 12

simsim said :

HenryBG said :

Jethro said :

HenryBG said :

Maybe ACT public schools should teach resilience instead of mollycoddling everybody against everything all the time?

I believe the research has shown private school kids are mollycoddled more than public school kids, as reflected in a higher failure rate at university when they are expected to do things for themselves for the first time in their lives.

I believe you are wrong.

You also belive that throwing rocks at defenceless women is acceptable behaviour rather than common assault, so forgive me if I don’t rate your opinions on anything highly.

+Infinity

gentoopenguin 11:22 am 24 Jul 12

gentoopenguin said :

Sounds frustrating. But beware of swift judgement. Perhaps the person working from home is ill, or they have a sick family member. One of my past colleagues was working from home while their spouse died. I have also had experience of a person being off work for several months with the team not being told a thing. Not laziness, but attempted suicide. The midday starter might have their own issues, and their “I’m not a morning person” spiel might be a cover for something serious. Or not.

Now I get that I have just made excuses for your colleagues, and possibly none of them deserve it, and even if they do deserve it, your daily work life hasn’t been helped. If the impact on you is really getting to you, then use the EAP service, they can help with that kind of work issue too. You can also make a time to peak to your director privately. They might be able to reassure you that they are aware of the issues and they are doing something about it, or they may, without breaching confidentiality, be able to let you know that these staff members are doing all that is required of them.

That’s very generous of you and I have tried too in the past to think that perhaps there are legitimate reasons behind these ghost colleagues. But frankly there are too many people with high absenteeism in this one small area. The full-time work at home person has been on that wicket for three years (I’ve known of him from a previous branch) and he moves areas with the same EL2 who thinks the sun shines out his proverbial. He is earmarked by the EL2 as a “thinker” and refuses to do all the regular things that everyone is forced to (TRIM, personal development agreements etc).

The “not a morning person”, when she is there, spends 80% of her time cornering people in the kitchen or copy room for extensive one-sided conversations. So not overly productive…

As for discussing with my boss, he’s the one who eats the sandwiches and calls his lawyers all day long.

Flossie 10:49 am 23 Jul 12

gentoopenguin said :

The area where I currently work in my agency is the absolute pits. One colleague “works from home” on a full-time basis (no 2/3 day split, no FULL TIME) and has been in the office only a handful of times since I started there last November. Another full-timer only rocks up between 11:30am and 1pm because “I am not a morning person so what’s the point?”. Another wasn’t seen for eight weeks, unknown whether they were on leave or what the deal was. Another sits in his room eating sandwiches, reading the newspaper and ringing his divorce lawyers all day.

It is all rather depressing for someone with a strong work ethic. I know some of these cases have been reported by other concerned colleagues to the relevant part of the agency that deals with absenteeism but nothing was done. Even though this people aren’t aggressive, the environment itself is highly demotivating and I can see how it would easily led some to feel stressed out, particularly the ones like me who actually work and are asked to pick up the slack from all the slackers.

Sounds frustrating. But beware of swift judgement. Perhaps the person working from home is ill, or they have a sick family member. One of my past colleagues was working from home while their spouse died. I have also had experience of a person being off work for several months with the team not being told a thing. Not laziness, but attempted suicide. The midday starter might have their own issues, and their “I’m not a morning person” spiel might be a cover for something serious. Or not.
Now I get that I have just made excuses for your colleagues, and possibly none of them deserve it, and even if they do deserve it, your daily work life hasn’t been helped. If the impact on you is really getting to you, then use the EAP service, they can help with that kind of work issue too. You can also make a time to peak to your director privately. They might be able to reassure you that they are aware of the issues and they are doing something about it, or they may, without breaching confidentiality, be able to let you know that these staff members are doing all that is required of them.

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