A matter I’ve been mulling over for some time has been whether Australian public servants should comment on the operations of other government departments – at whatever jurisdictional level.
I am aware of several cases where individual public servants have commented on a difficult personal situation they experienced with another agency and received an informal complaint, via their own senior management, from the senior management of the other agency (who had used social media monitoring to track them down). Generally the complaint was that by commenting in a less than positive manner they were calling the integrity and reputation of another agency into question.
This raises major considerations for public servants as they engage online personally or professionally. While it is very clear from the Australian Public Service Code that public servants should uphold the integrity and reputation of the public service, there is less clarity around whether public servants should comment on operational matters that affect them personally.
It also raises questions about the role and rights of public servants – can they possess all the rights of other citizens as well as act responsibly as employees of the government? Are they entitled to raise valid concerns about government operated services based on their and their family and friends’ personal experiences?
Here’s some examples to clarify the type of situations that I see may emerge:
- If a public servant is organising a passport for a family member and the process goes badly astray, can they comment online about the issues they experienced with the Department of Immigration?
- If a public servant finds traffic is slowed to a stand-still due to road works during peak hour, can they complain online about the Roads Authority?
- Finally, if a public servant is inappropriately treated by counter staff at a government shopfront, can they discuss their poor customer service experience online?
Over time there may be temptation for senior agency officials to attempt to shutdown this type of commenting by public servants, either by discouraging social media engagement or through staff education.
However as more public servants take to social media (and more social media users are employed by government), the frequency of these types of incidents is likely to grow.
I wonder how our systems will need to adapt.