Council staff off sick average of 15 days a year – described as ‘awfully high’

STAFF at Swansea Council are off sick for three working weeks a year on average – a figure that has been described as “awfully high”.

The average of just over 15 days per full-time employee factors in those on long-term sickness leave, which skews the number, so many staff will in reality be absent for fewer days during the course of the year.

A report discussed by the council’s governance and audit committee said the social services, education and place departments – the latter encompassing waste, cleansing, parks and transport – had the highest staff sickness levels.

The average sickness absence in social services was just over 19 days in 2021-22.

The figure across the council for April, May and June this year was just over five days – a big drop – but council officer Adrian Chard said he estimated the average by the end of the financial year would be about the same as in 2021-22, in other words 15 or so.

“We are still suffering the effects of Covid,” he said.

Lay committee member Gordon Anderson said he felt the 15-day a year average was “awfully high”.

Mr Anderson also questioned an assertion in the report that there were no financial implications.

In reply, finance director Ben Smith said Mr Anderson was “absolutely right” in that departments had to spend substantially to fill in sickness gaps, but he added there were no direct financial implications in terms of the audit report before the committee.

Covid was the highest cause of sickness absence, followed by “other reasons”. Stomach issues, colds and infections, and stress were the next highest causes.

The meeting heard about the ways the council tried to reduce and mitigate sickness absence ­, including the appointment of “management absence advisers” to ensure managers complied with sickness absence policy and to  identify ways in reducing it.

The report said stress and coronavirus-related absences had started to decrease, and that intervention measures were used in social services when an employee reached four months of long-term sickness.

It added that occupational health staff ran clinics, and have restarted menopause cafes and health fairs, which include free health checks, and have jointly launched a long-term sickness support group.

Cllr Jeff Jones asked if employees who worked from home were less likely to be off sick than frontline staff such as social services.

Mr Chard said his view was that sickness levels would be less among those who worked from home.

The average sickness absence per employee in 2020-21 and 2019-20 was 11.5 days and 14 days respectively across the council.

Lay committee chairwoman Paula O’Connor said she felt the current sickness levels “are higher than the council would want”, and asked officers to evaluate the effectiveness of occupational health in reducing the numbers.

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