21 Nov 2018

Shake-up at Privacy Commission after 'unpleasant' internal feedback

5:07 pm on 21 November 2018

The Privacy Commissioner has had to shake up his working environment following a period of high staff turnover and some "unpleasant" internal feedback.

John Edwards, The Privacy Commissioner at the select commitee.

John Edwards, The Privacy Commissioner at the select commitee. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

John Edwards was at Parliament this morning for the Privacy Commission's annual review, and was questioned by MPs about why he was constantly recruiting.

He said there were a number of factors, including not having adequate funding to pay staff enough for the work they do and rising international demand for skills in the area of privacy.

"This is the same in New Zealand. So we are a nursery, because we can't meet the market cost of the professionals," Mr Edwards said.

"We hire people - bright people, dedicated people - we train them, but they want to buy houses and support their families as well. I can't blame them and I congratulate them when they accept positions that are better paid in other organisations."

He agrees they are in a constant mode of recruitment, which he says "is a drag and non-productive" because they'll train people over a year, who end up only sticking around for another year at most.

"This is our reality and we are working hard to try and change the environment for our staff to retain them. But I'm not sure we can affect the market."

But Mr Edwards said he had also taken on board some rough feedback that came directly from staff.

"I had some unpleasant surprises from one or two engagement surveys and I've learned some experience from exit interviews."

He said they learned they were "uneven in their presentation of a safe working environment" in terms of stress levels, and in supporting people who sometimes had difficult conversations with troubled members of the community.

"So we've actually rolled out mechanisms to address that and I now am confident that I have a more current and contemporary finger on the pulse of the culture of the organisation, and I can represent to you that we have a safe and supportive workplace that really does nurture the talent that we have, and recognises the contribution that those staff make."

One of those mechanisms was to introduce an app that surveyed staff every week, rather than every two years, which he admitted was never good enough.

Mr Edwards said this allowed staff to directly engage with management in real time - anonymously - and it meant he could unpack things and sort them out much more quickly.

He said staff reported a much higher level of engagement as a result of that.

Earlier, the committee held a hearing for the annual review of the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Its general manager, Warren Young, told MPs it received a large number of complaints about the police holding on to property unlawfully.

He said most of the complaints related to the police not giving property back to the owner when they should have or that they had lost it, or destroyed it when they should not have.

"That's partly because officers haven't been properly trained in statutory requirements, and it's partly because they do not have an adequate system for tracking property and the status of property, as a result of which property gets lost or its status is overlooked."

Dr Young said the suthority had been working with the police on an electonic tracking system for property, which it hoped would address the problem.

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