Civil servants will be encouraged to discuss their political activities with their managers and the political interests of close family members under new guidelines released yesterday.

The State Services Commission has toughened up its code of conduct for public servants with more prescriptive rules around political activities and potential conflicts of interest.

The changes come amid signs of heightened Government sensitivity around the professionalism of the public service including its initiation of two inquiries into the leak of its mining and state sector restructuring plans.

In the past few days the commission has updated specific guidance on political neutrality and its general advice: Understanding the code of conduct - Guidance for State Servants.

The Political Neutrality Guidance document sets out the requirement for state servants to be apolitical when carrying out their duties, while the larger general guidance on the commission's code of conduct also includes new sections on political activities.

In an addition to the previous version of the guidance published in 2007, the document encourages state servants to discuss actual or intended political activities with their manager and goes on to say that political interests of close family members may have the potential to conflict with state servants' obligations.

Another addition to the latest version is material discussing potential that "the financial interests of some people in the State Services (or of their close family or friends) may be related to the operations of the organisation" which may create the perception of a conflict of interest.

It says some of these conflicts should be documented in an "accessible" register.

State Services spokesman Jason Ryan said revision of the documents and policies was begun some time ago and was not prompted by recent apparent breaches of the code of conduct such as the leaks.

However, "any events like this are always a factor in a decision to ensure that state servants have the clearest, most accessible guidance about their responsibilities in terms of the standards of integrity and conduct", he said.

Labour state services spokesman Grant Robertson said he was sure "recent events will be fresh in the State Services Commissioner's mind".

The inquiries, initiated at the request of State Services Minster Tony Ryall, suggested there was a heightened sensitivity around state servants' conduct, he said.

Mr Robertson, a former public servant, said it was reasonable for state servants to discuss their political activities with their managers "but dragging family members into it is taking it to another level".

"There's a risk of overblowing this problem and the Government in launching these two inquiries is showing they are sensitive, but I think we do need to respect public servants and come up with criteria that they work with their managers on without turning it into a much bigger problem than it is."

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilot said her organisation supported the inclusion of detailed guidelines around political activities as the previous lack of clarity meant employees had tended to be overly cautious. But the PSA had been strongly opposed to the introduction of a register of potential conflicts.