Is Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Australia’s toughest boss?
More than half of Kevin Rudd’s staff have fled the Prime Minister’s office since the election less than two years ago. Despite promising to rid Australia of workplace bullies, the PM – dubbed Kevin 24/7 – has emerged as one of the country’s most demanding employers, with insiders describing him as “manic”.
With the next election less than one year away, the PM has lost most of his seniour policy advisors, leaving an office that insiders say is almost unrecognisable. “He’s demanding and a bit all over the place,” says on former staffer of the PM, who recently tore into Labour’s factional chiefs with an expletive-laden rant. Another was more blunt. “He gives little in the way of constructive feedback. And he just doesn’t listen to anybody.”
The Herald Sun has found that 23 or 39 staff have left Mr Rudd’s offce – and there are whispers of more to follow. Four senior staff – including Jack Lake, a 25 year parliamentary veteran – have announced their departures in recent weeks. Seasoned political advisors say that John Howard, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke enjoyed strong staff loyalty and only minor turnover. But public sector recruitment specialist Kathy Kostyrko warned that Mr Rudd’s office management appeared a problem. “That is a very high turnover rate. You need to look at the work environment and your recruitment (methods)”, said Ms Kostyrko, a director with Hayes Specialist Recruitment. While the PM makes no apology for his unrelenting pace, senior Labour figures worry these changes will leave the Government vulnerable heading into an election year. Senior staff who have left – including policy director Predeep Philip, education advisor Michael Lye and health advisor Rod Glover – are being replaced by advisors with little experience in the political hurly-burly.
It’s not just Mr Rudd’s office recording an exodus of staff – dozens of employees have resigned from senior Government and Opposition offices in the past two years. At least 13 staff have left Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s employ, while at least 10 have left Climate Change Minister Penny Wong’s office and 7 have left both Treasurer Wayne Swan and Sports Minister Kate Ellis’ office. A spokesman for Mr Rudd said, “Political staff work is both rewarding and demanding – and working in the Prime Minister’s office is no exception.” On the record, staffers won’t say the gruelling workload was a factor in their resignation. But privately, they grizzle about working in an office that some say has become dysfuntional. Action Rob Sitch, on of the stars of the ABC’s Hollowmen, which took a satirical look at life in a prime ministerial office, said the “combination of stress, caffeine and Canberra will eventually wear anybody down”.
Workplace stress expert Meiron Lees, who published the book D-Stress, said “it’s not surprising” so many people have left Mr Rudd’s office given his workaholic example. “The behaviour of the leader is significant in determining the satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment of the staff”. It is not just the Government having trouble holding onto valuable staff. Since February, 11 media advisors working for the 32 federal opposition frontbenchers have quit their high pressure jobs. During the same period, 13 media advisors working for the Government’s 30 frontbenchers have moved on. Just last week Christian Taubenschlag – media advisor to Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O’Connor – accounced he was resigning to spend “quality time” with his wife Tara and nine week old baby Allegra.
Meiron Lees is Executive Director of specialist SME training and coaching business InnerCents (innercents.com.au). He is also the author of D-Stress: Building Resilience in Challenging Times.