Parliament is a toxic workplace with a systematic bullying and harassment problem, a sweeping new review has confirmed.
Staff have reported a known minority of MPs who engage in “inappropriate behaviours on a regular basis” and were described as “various shades of s….”.
Some had “low people-management experience, poor self awareness and a big sense of entitlement”.
The full report is here. If you read it, you would be tempted to conclude everyone is a bully – MPs, Ministers, managers, colleagues and even the press gallery. Yes MPs or staff complained of being bullied by journalists.
I worked in Parliament for eight years, in three different roles – in a ministerial office, in an opposition office and in the neutral support service of Ministerial Services. Here’s my take.
First of all, most (as in over half) MPs and Ministers are great bosses. Their staff love working for them, and are personally and professionally loyal. Many remain friends after they leave. Some examples of offices where staff were really well treated would be Roger Sowry’s, Annette King’s, Paula Bennett’s, John Key’s, Tau Henare’s, Phil Goff’s.
You also have some MPs and Ministers who are okay bosses. They’re nice people, but they don’t always have experience in managing staff. Being a good boss does often require learning skills.
Then you have some MPs and Ministers who have tense offices.Most of the time it is a cool place to work, but when the pressure is on the MP can be very hard work. They see their career at stake if an issue isn’t managed well, and they freak out etc and it isn’t fun.
Finally you have some MPs or Ministers who are just really bad to work for. Not a lot of them, but there are some. They scream, they yell, they throw things, they belittle.
You also have some MPs who are sleazy – not necessarily to their own staff, but to others. In the 1990s there were quite a few. I have to say I think it is far far less today.
Now the problem is an MP isn’t an employee. They are an elected representative. So what do you do with the ones who are bad bosses?
Well in my experience they tend to have very high staff turnover. So one incentive you could introduce is regular reporting of staff turnover by MPs. A high turnover might be for quite valid reasons, but would signal there may be a problem and incentivise MPs to try and retain staff.
Of course sometimes staff are not up to the job. It is a difficult environment. And MPs should move them on. But you do that by using the irreconcilable difference clause, not by making life terrible for them.
It is also worth noting that many of the stories in the report are also about staff who don’t work directly for an MP,. They work in a support agency. Those issues need to be dealt with by the agency heads.
Another change I would consider is changing the employment structure in Parliament. At present MPs staff are technically employed by Parl Serv or Min Serv, but in reality their MP or Minister is their boss. Why not make each parliamentary party the legal employer of their staff, so they are incentivised to be good employers. Make the PMs Office the employer of all ministerial staff.