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Council staff took 11 days off sick last year on average, resulting in 72,460 lost days

09 Jul 2024 4 minute read
Carmarthenshire County Hall. Photo by Reading Tom is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Richard Youle Local Democracy Reporter

Council workers in took an average of 11 days off sick in 2023-24, an improvement on the previous year but still below a set target.

Short-term and long-term sickness absence was recorded for just over 6,500 Carmarthenshire Council staff who work in five main departments. The average figure of 11.06 days off per employee equated to 72,460 lost days of work.

The target figure was 10.68 days, but on the plus side staff were off for 11.55 days in 2022-23 – and in that year Carmarthenshire’s level of sickness absence was the eighth lowest of Wales’s 22 councils.

Financial loss

As well as lost productivity there is a significant financial cost to sickness absence. A report before a council scrutiny committee said the authority paid out £8.38 million in occupational sick pay in 2023-24, and this didn’t include additional costs which may be needed such as replacement agency workers.

Mental health and stress were again the highest two causes of sickness absence in 2023-24, accounting for 35% of all lost days. This could include anxiety, depression and various forms of stress – work or non work-related – with workload again the most common cause of work-related stress. Staff were also off sick with coughs and colds, gastrointestinal problems and back pain, among other things.

The corporate performance and resources scrutiny committee, as in previous years, heard about the latest efforts to reduce sickness absence and support staff, including “a very, very clear” explanation by chief executive Wendy Walters to senior managers about the financial implications.

Assistant chief executive Paul Thomas said: “It is a difficult issue. We are trying to put everything in place to support our staff. We don’t want staff to be sick. What more can we do?”

Sickness absence was highest in the communities department, which includes things like adult social care, where staff were off sick for an average of 12.8 days, but this was fewer than the previous year.

Sickness absence in the education and children’s services department was on average 10.7 days – the same as in 2022-23 – but within this department there was marked rise in sickness among the corporate parenting team. Mr Thomas said a major restructure of children’s services could partly explain this.

Councillors were told that stressed staff filled out a questionnaire with their managers, and that the latter might look to make employees’ roles more flexible in response to give them more autonomy.

Support service

The committee report said 1,546 employees had had support from the council’s well-being support service, occupational health team, physicians and nurses in 2023-24. There are occasions when an employee can’t be supported back into work, and 97 people resigned or were dismissed on the grounds of capability last year.

The report said Merthyr Tydfil Council’s sickness absence was the lowest in Wales in 2022-23, with staff off for an average of 8.7 days. Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s sickness absence was the highest, with staff off for an average of 18 days.

Elsewhere in the public sector Hywel Dda University Health Board staff were off sick for an average of just over 13.5 days in the 2023 calendar year, according to the report.

Cllr Deryk Cundy said: “We keep praising staff for working hard and this type of thing – I hear it in meeting after meeting that people are working evenings, people are working on their holidays.

“I just wonder if we could understand how many empty positions we actually have within the authority at the moment and if this is having an impact.” Mr Thomas said he would obtain this data.


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