Former employees of Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell have expressed relief and vindication at the news bullying allegations against her will be investigated by the State Services Commission.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi confirmed the investigation to Newsroom on Monday, following its investigation into Maxwell and the concerns raised by over a dozen staff who worked at her Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC).

Maxwell, who has denied many of the allegations, has been placed on leave while the SSC carries out its inquiry, which Faafoi said was expected to report back by February next year.

Several of the employees who spoke to Newsroom as part of its original investigation said they were happy that something was finally being done to hold Maxwell to account.

Julia Bockett, a former HR manager at the commission who said she found it difficult to raise concerns shared with her about Maxwell’s behaviour, said she looked forward to the investigation outcome but questioned why nothing was done sooner.

“Why did things have to hit rock bottom before anything was done? It still astounds me that no attempt was made to dig deeper into the turnover statistics at the time they were reported.”

“I feel relieved that someone has managed to do something and create some real, shall we say, vindication for those who have suffered under her.”

Bockett said the oversight had caused “untold stress” to the commission’s staff, as well as additional costs to the taxpayer.

Employee C, a staff member who worked under Maxwell for several years, said she was relieved at the news of a formal investigation.

“I feel relieved that someone has managed to do something and create some real, shall we say, vindication for those who have suffered under her.”

She said the investigation needed to cover the “massive gap” in support for employees at the commission, including the lack of an HR system during her time there, as well as the governance processes which helped to cover up the problems.

“Diane was the board, and the CEO, and the HR person, and there was nowhere else we could go.”

‘A little bit of vindication’

Employee G, who worked under both Maxwell and her predecessor Diana Crossan, said the news of the inquiry was “fantastic”, including the fact its scope would cover the commission’s operating model.

He felt “a little bit of vindication” at Faafoi’s decision, adding the SSC’s work needed to cover Maxwell’s appointment process, the recruitment processes in place, and the decision to relocate the commission from Wellington to Auckland.

Employee K, who quit the commission after less than a year, said she was relieved at news Maxwell had been stood down pending the results of the investigation.

“Now the truth will hopefully prevail and ex-staff, existing staff and taxpayers alike can breathe a sigh of relief that this behaviour will not be tolerated.”

PM weighs in

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern weighed in on the issue at her weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, saying the Government needed to make sure that all workplaces dealt with bullying allegations appropriately.

Ardern said the SSC would be “well-placed” to look into whether there were any “systemic issues” with the unique governance structures of Crown entities such as the CFFC.

A written statement provided by a CFFC spokeswoman said Maxwell “welcome[d] the review” and looked forward to “providing clarity as part of a robust and accountable process”.

“The work of CFFC in helping New Zealanders get ahead financially will continue as usual, led by its senior leadership team,” the statement said.

The terms of reference for the inquiry, as well as who will lead it, are yet to be finalised, although Faafoi said he expected it to cover complaints from any former or current staff, as well as the organisational structure of the commission.

An SSC spokesman said State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes would appoint somebody soon to carry out the investigation, with the investigator’s name, along with the terms of reference, to be released “as soon as practicable”.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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