Stress management policy helping with staff sickness at Chichester District Council

Staff sickness figures at Chichester District Council are being monitored to make sure people aren’t working from home when they should be resting.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 11:18 am
The number of Chichester District Council staff going sick has fallen

At a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee, members were told the number of sick days taken had fallen in the past 18 months, from almost 10 per person to just over seven.

When asked whether the ability to work from home had helped improve the figures, business support manager Joe Mildred said: “I’m sure it does help.

“Because if you are not feeling 100 per cent but you feel like you could do some work but maybe have a shorter day, then our flexible working practise for some jobs allows that.”

Mr Mildred said there had been some debate about when it was OK for staff to work from home when sick, with concerns some would not want to admit they were ill.

He added: “Ultimately, if you’re too ill to work and you need to recover, then you should have a day’s sick.

“We are trying to ensure that we aren’t masking sickness.”

Of the 7.08 days per year taken by staff on average, more than four were due to long-term illnesses. Front-line and manual staff were more likely to go sick than their colleagues.

Mr Mildred said a lot of work had been carried out over the past 18 months to look at the way staff sickness was managed.

This included the rewriting of the absence management policy ‘to remove ambiguity as much as possible’ and to make sure staff were ‘being treated on an equal playing field’.

He said there had been a particular focus on stress because the amount recorded by staff ‘had taken a worrying upturn in the previous five years’.

To tackle the rise in numbers, a stress management policy was introduced, which Mr Mildred said seemed to be working quite well.

A stress management survey was carried out with staff – but while work was often a contributing cause, it was not seen to be the root of the problem.

There were some concerns about warnings being issued to people who took long-term sickness – a warning that would stay on their record for up to a year.

Mr Mildred said the council was not questioning whether people were genuinely ill, adding everything would be done to help them back to work but ‘ultimately we need to have a fully resourced workforce’.

Between April 2018 and March 2019, the number of sick days dropped to just over six per person before rising again.

Mr Mildred told the committee: “Because we’re not a huge authority and we don’t have lots of staff, just a couple of long-term sickness really does skew the figure and does make a difference.

“The averages over time can be influenced by individual cases.”