Agenda item

Sickness Absence / Health of the Workforce - Annual Update

Report of the Strategic Director, Corporate Services and Governance


The Committee received an update report on the actions taken since the report brought to Committee on 3 December 2018.


Following a review of the Council’s sickness strategies, systems and procedures in 2005, Cabinet requested that the management of sickness absence continue to be scrutinised, with a view to reducing absence levels within the Council’s workforce and improving the health of the workforce.


The statistics quoted relate to a full year for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019.  Some additional information is provide to allow a comparison for the full details.


Average sickness day per FTE for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019 was 11.38 compared to 12.75 for the period April 2017 to March 2018.


Across the Council as a whole stress, depression and mental ill health accounts for 31.5% of all sickness and remains the largest cause of sickness absence.  Post-op recovery and hospital treatment makes up 17.5% and other musculoskeletal conditions account for 17.5%.  These three categories remain the main cause of sickness absence.


As part of the North East Better Health at Work Award (NEBHAWA) and the employee Health Needs Assessment survey, three task and finish groups were set up.  The groups considered weight management, reducing stress levels, increasing physical activity, improving sleep, getting a better worklife balance and reducing back pain.  The groups facilitated several health campaigns such as the ‘step challeng’, Nordic walking and Bewicks health eating options which were promoted in the employee bulleting.  There are further activities planned such as taster exercise sessions for domiciliary care staff.  There have also been some local success, stories where small teams have participated in weight loss and exercise programmes, with very successful outcomes.


The Council participated in a joint project with UNISON, the objective being to reduce work-related stress to improve wellbeing and to reduce levels of stress-related sickness absence.  As part of the project the HSE management standards survey tool was used to seek information mainly within the Care Wellbeing and Learning Group.  The key area of concern included the demands placed on employees, the support provided by managers, lack of clarity in respect of individual rols and responsibilities leading to lack of control and the negative impact of organisational change.  Action plans continue to be monitored to ensure the agreed timescales are met.


The last OSC report advised that Leisure Services and Occupational Health were working together to explore the introduction of a medical referral service to the Council’s leisure services.  This would be on the basis that where Occupational Health identify that there is a need that an employee may benefit from an exercise programme they may be offered an introductory 12 weeks free or discounted GO membership to access leisure facilities.  This programme has been implemented and to date 40 employees have been referred, 32 employees took up the offer and 12 have completed the 3 month programme with a further 20 still within their first three months of the programme.  All of the services involved have received positive feedback in particular it was highlighted that one employee made additional effort to feedback and whilst the attendance at the gym helped with her recovery it also lifted her mental health and wellebing and her mood.  This employee has gone on to purchase a gym membership and is continuing to be active.

Training for managers has been implemented and 90% of managers have attended the training.  An e-learning module will be available as a refresher for current managers and for newly appointed managers.


During 2018/19 there has been 360 referrals to the Council’s counselling service which is an increase from 218 in the previous year.  Referrals relate to various issues, including work related stress, difficult working relationships, personal issues and bereavement.  A large proportion of the employees referred are still at work at the point of referral although many report that they are at ‘tipping point’.  As a result of counselling services many do remain at work and learn techniques to help them manage their stressors and the personal circumstances in which they find themselves.


The Council signed the Time to Change pledge, a national campaign that aims to improve attitudes and behaviour towards people suffering with mental health problems which remains the largest cause of sickness absence within the Council.


The sickness absence management policy and procedure is currently being reviewed.  A revised policy for schools is undergoing formal consultation with the trade unions.  The Council’s policy will be circulated for trade union consultation in the near future.


The HR Team will continue to provide data and dashboard information to services and provide advice and support so managers can take appropriate action to address sickness absence effectively and consistently.


The Council will continue to implement the action plan in relation to the Time to Change Pledge to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and enable employees to access appropriate support, hopefully before the feel a need to take sick leave.


Managing the menopause is a new theme where the Council is working in partnership with Unison to develop support, information and advice for women who suffer from menopausal symptoms, and for managers and other staff (male and female) with a view to mainstreaming this topic.  It is important that employees are support by the Council when they are managing their symptoms, equally important is being able to speak about the menopause as a normal medical issue without embarrassment.


An employee financial wellbeing scheme will be launched to complement the other staff benefit schemes already in place.


RESOLVED -              that it be noted that the Committee is satisfied with the work undertaken in the last reporting period, and that the proposed actions for 2019/20 are a balance of support for employees against positive management action in tackling high absence levels with the aim of reducing sickness absence and maintaining good health of the workforce.



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