Council staff in Leeds took a combined total of 42,000 days off last year due to mental health issues, according to a new report.
Sickness levels increased during the 12 months up to August 2018, and the average number of days taken was 15 per cent over Leeds City Council’s target, a paper that went before the authority’s resources scrutiny board meeting yesterday (Monday) said.
Council officers claimed that more of an emphasis was now being placed on the mental wellbeing of its staff, as well as certain areas of services.
Chairing the meeting, Coun Pauleen Grahame (Lab) said: “Staff sickness levels have continued to increase, despite having in place a health safety and wellbeing strategy.
“If the existing strategy hasn’t helped to address this matter, why are we planning to extend it for a further two years,
“I am intrigued at how it has increased, because we have looked at sickness over the past few years.”
A report that went before members said that council employees took an average of 9.82 days each (full time equivalent) in sickness days last year.
The authority added that it would extend its health, safety and wellbeing strategy has been extended for a further two years, and that high absence service areas continue to have meetings around the issue.
The council’s director of resources and housing, Neil Evans, responded: “Going back five years or more, absence levels are lower than then. But it is true to say they have plateaued.
“We are beginning to see a slight increase over the past couple of years.
“In terms of what we do about that, I think its right that we focus on preventative work that we can do. If we can work with things like muscular complaints and other particular areas of work. We want to fast track those issues.
“But this year we are going to be putting a significant push on mental health, this has become the largest cause of absence in the council.
“There are a number of initiatives going on to raise awareness and offer practical support to bring people back to work.
“In terms of other things which we want to do, you will see a variation across the council in terms of levels of absence. Some services will have 5 days of absence, others have closer to 15 – it is a very mixed picture.
“There will be a concentration of effort in those areas particularly affected by absence.
“We should see some shift in direction over the next 12 months.”
The council document added that a total of 42,289 working days had been lost due to mental health conditions, while Musculo-Skeletal Disorders made up 25,816 days of absence.
Those suffering from heart and blood pressure problems missed 5,091 days of work due to their conditions.
It added that senior managers had attended training on how to improve attendance.
Coun Ron Grahame (Lab) told the meeting: “I think there is a case now to have a professional nurse employed here.
“(Bosses) are not trained professionals – they are managers and supervisors. If we look into this, we could have an answer to some of the problems of having someone to talk to where welfare is concerned.”
Mr Evans responded: “The emphasis is making it in the forefront of all managers’ minds to take responsibility of the welfare of all their staff, and not just pass them off onto a professional.”