Centrelink staff under pressure

A survey of Centrelink staff has revealed that staff feel pressured to meet performance targets, which often results in them manipulating their work practices in ways that are not ‘productive for customers’.

The results of the survey from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) found that frontline staff in Centrelink offices did not feel trusted or respected by their employer and their work was negatively affected by their treatment, according to a report published in The Guardian.

The survey was completed by 1571 members of the Services Australia staff, with 90 per cent feeling pressured to meet performance targets and 63 per cent admitting to manipulating work practices to meet those targets in ways that did not necessarily work best for clients.

The CPSU said that the excessive oversight of staff, which included intrusive questions about toilet breaks, were having a “negative effect on staff wellbeing, customer service and workplace culture”.

CPSU national president Alistair Waters told The Guardian that there not enough secure and experienced staff to get the job done.

Around 71 per cent of the survey respondents said that the average time they were given to finalise a work task was unrealistic.

One survey respondent said: “It is doing an incredible disservice to our customers and putting unrealistic pressure on us, so if you care about your customers and actually giving them assistance, you will then be asked to explain yourself in coaching. It’s disgusting.”

Another said: “The claim you are allocated might be extremely complex and take a considerable amount of time. It really puts you in a difficult position, if you take the time to ensure the outcome is accurate for the customer then it can take a real hit to your productivity.”

Last month, in response to a report that showed Centrelink wait times had blown out this year, YourLifeChoices members shared some of their frustrations in dealing with the agency.

“The government is forcing older Australians who are technologically illiterate to apply for [the] Aged Pension online. They give you the option of allowing a third party to do this on your behalf but that necessitates that person knowing a lot of very personal information. Some staff give incorrect information, others just point you at a terminal or telephone. Different centres can give very different levels of service so it pays to shop around,” wrote YourLifeChoices member Unikat.

“Even before COVID the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Liberal government has slashed staffing levels in Centrelink to a point where the remaining staff simply cannot cope with the duties the parliament has given them,” wrote Crazy Horse. “No amount of spin from #ScottyFromMarketing can change this fundamental fact that anyone who has to deal with Centrelink knows to be true.”

“My daughter walked out of the Centrelink office recently, having waited 20 minutes just to register to get to see someone. The place looked understaffed and the number of people waiting to see someone suggested at least an hour wait. With car parking in the area monitored by enthusiastic parking officers the choice became a financial decision,” wrote inextratime.

Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said that the survey covered only a small proportion of CPSU members’ views and was not representative of all staff.

“We manage people respectfully, using performance processes and systems that are widely used in the customer contact (call centre) industry, and we await the results of the 2020 staff census,” Mr Jongen said.

He explained that the agency had completed a staff census in 2019 that had a sample size of 25,000 staff that found that 87 per cent of respondents reported that their supervisor treated them with respect.

Do you feel the staff at Centrelink try and rush you when you have a query? Or do you feel they take the necessary time to answer all your questions?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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