Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell has denied allegations of a culture of bullying at the organisation she oversees.

A Newsroom investigation which interviewed a dozen former unnamed staff who previously worked under Maxwell at the Commission for Financial Capability claim she oversaw a culture of bullying and management which impacted the wellbeing of staff.

Allegations include staff having their work ripped up in front of them, being publicly shamed during meetings, and feeling like they were walking on eggshells.

But Maxwell said today she did not believe the allegations reflected the organisation or herself as leader.


"I do demand high standards and a level of excellence, as you would expect from a taxpayer organisation, and I do address performance issues when they arise, again as you would expect from a taxpayer-funded entity.

"My leadership style is clear and direct but I also have a strong and fundamental sense of fairness and empathy."

Maxwell was appointed Retirement Commissioner in June 2013 for a three-year term which was renewed in 2016.

The allegations come on the back of high staff turnover at the CFFC - the government's money education arm.

Figures show in 2014 the staff turnover was 89.7 per cent after it moved its office from Wellington to Auckland.

It dropped in the preceding years but in the year to June 2018 more than half of the staff left (51 per cent).

That was up from 24.2 per cent in its year to June 2017.

Maxwell said that since 2014 the nature of what the organisation did had shifted towards a focus on behaviour change programmes and content targeted at more vulnerable groups.


In the last year in particular the jobs and structure within the organisation had changed so that the skills, capabilities and structure reflected the strategy shift, Maxwell said.

It had also moved towards creating its own content rather than marketing campaigns.

"We have at times struggled to retain staff when we can't compete with the salaries and packages offered by the private sector or larger agencies.

"We also face the challenge of a small organisation who cannot offer much in the way of promotion because we are quite a flat structure – which can mean progress requires a shift."

Maxwell said that while she was given feedback from her human resources manager about concerns from former staff she reflected on it with the manager and acknowledged that it was mixed with positive feedback, combined with a difficult period of restructuring and redundancies and at times disciplinary and performance issues.

As a result of the feedback Maxwell said she introduced a new operations role that ensured there was a senior and experienced full time HR resource available rather than part time.

Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi, whose portfolio the commission falls under, raised concerns about staff turnover several months ago at one of the quarterly meetings he had with the commissioner.

Maxwell said she talked him through the departures and the changes in the organisation in some detail.

Faafoi said today he had not had any current or former staff member from the commission raise concerns directly with him but on Tuesday he was made aware of an anonymous letter received by his office which did raise concerns.

"I immediately sought advice on how to address this letter."

Faafoi said he personally and the government believed everyone should be treated with respect in the workplace.

Maxwell's second term is due to be completed in June next year.

Faafoi said two terms was a significant commitment and after two terms it was appropriate to go to the market to re-appoint for the next term.

"This was shared to the commissioner two weeks ago."

Faafoi said in awareness of the increasing mandate and funding of the commission he had had discussions on what might be the most appropriate and effective governance structure of the commission but had yet to receive any formal advice on it.