The problematic Productivity Commission

Kate McNamara writes:

The Productivity Commission delivered a new inquiry into immigration last month, at the same time that it is facing its own story of migration: an exodus. It involves a string of departures that have not yet been stemmed by an independent HR investigation and a slew of recommended remedies.

A distinct wave of resignations began in February last year, when two of the independent Crown entity’s principal advisers left. In subsequent months they were followed out the door by six more staffers, including two lynchpin managers, each of whom had been directing one of the commission’s two inquiries of the time. The eight departures in 2021 made up more than half the commission’s 15 employees (the head count as of January 1, 2021, including one part-timer).

Losing half your staff in a year is generally a sign of severe problems.

An HR review called late last year found problems at the commission including a troubled transition under the leadership of Ganesh Nana, who became chair on February 1, 2021. It also found an uneasy relationship between the new chair and many staff, especially senior ones. While efforts to improve staff retention are underway, at least four more employees have resigned from the commission in the first half of this year. Of the senior leadership team described in commission documents at this time last year, only one of the five remains.

So in 18 months they have lost 80% of their staff.

In addition, reports of divisions at board level have been underscored by the early and unexplained departure of commissioner Andrew Sweet in March, two months before his term was to end. Also leaving is commissioner Gail Pacheco, who did not seek reappointment for a second term. Pacheco has agreed to remain temporarily past the end of her term, which expires at the end of the month, in order not to leave the board without a quorum (Sweet’s departure reduced the board to three).

Half the board gone also. You don’t have to be a genius to work out where the problem is.

Of the staff who spoke to the Herald, many elaborated that they found Nana’s and analytical input to their work “light weight” and his manner detached and awkward. They said Rosenberg was distant, and he was repeatedly described as “ideological” and set in his thinking.

This is no surprise. Both men are hugely ideological and the area of productivity is a highly technical one.

Some staff felt the HR review did not adequately reflect the interviews they’d given, especially the strength of their emotions. “I cried through the whole interview,” one said. Another described being surprised and overwhelmed by the strength of reaction the interview gave rise to: “I just felt this surge of rage”.

Sounds like a terrible place to work if former staff cry or get angry talking about it.

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