215,000 days lost to council sickness

PUBLISHED: 10:38 27 August 2009 | UPDATED: 17:04 25 August 2010

EXCLUSIVE EMPLOYEE sick leave and long-term stress related absence could have cost a council over £12 million, an exclusive Times investigation has revealed.


EMPLOYEE sick leave and long-term stress related absence could have cost a council over £12 million, an exclusive Times investigation has revealed.

A total of 214,885 sick days were taken by Greenwich council workers, including school staff, with 36,440 days being taken off because of stress-induced sickness alone.

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, equate to each one of the 11,000 workers being absent for three days over a two-and-a-half year period because of stress.

In the same period 2,695 people have taken sick leave which has lasted longer than two weeks, with the longest period of illness lasting for 644 days, three months short of TWO YEARS.

The mammoth price tag attached to the absenteeism, calculated at more than £12 million in lost time, has led experts to call for Greenwich to carry out a stress audit.

Director of the International Stress Management Association, Jenny Edwards, said: "There is an enormous cost factor to stress related absenteeism and particularly at the moment when councils need to be saving money this is something they should be addressing.

"I would suggest Greenwich council carry out a stress audit to help identify what is causing their stress related sickness and see how it can be reduced.

"There is no simple answer to why public sector workers have higher rates of stress absenteeism.

"Undoubtedly people feel more secure in the public sector and sometimes the negative consequences for absenteeism in terms of promotion and job loss are less severe than in the private sector as identified by recent CIPD research."

Bexley council, which employs 5,444 people, claimed it was unable to provide information for their school staff without exceeding the Act's time limit of 18-man hours.

However, it did provide statistics for its 1,952 central staff which showed 20 per cent of the workforce has taken leave of longer than two weeks since January 2007, but just 191 days has been lost due to stress-related illness, a stark comparison to Greenwich's figures.

Bexley was the only council to calculate the cost of the absence which totalled £1.96 million, working out at roughly £60 per day. By that reckoning, Greenwich council would have forgone £12.9 million.

A spokesperson for Greenwich council said: "We take the management of staff absence due to illness very seriously and employ a rigorous policy in this area.

"Since 2003 the council has improved its average days lost by 3.6 days per employee and continues to seek year on year improvement.

"We follow good practice in doing what it can to help prevent stress-related absence occurring through introducing support services available to all staff. These include the provision of access to a round the clock confidential counselling service and holding staff well-being days where experts are on hand to give practical advice on all aspects of employee health."

A Bexley council spokesperson said: "Bexley has improved its management of sickness absence and levels of absence are now amongst the lowest in London.

"The figures for stress related absence are low over the three year period. The council has an excellent occupational health service and counselling service to support staff. It has a code of practice for preventing and managing stress and has provided training to its managers in how to recognise and support staff who might suffer stress."

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