A meeting of North Lanarkshire Council’s Policy and Resources (Human Resources) sub-committee for the last three months of 2015 heard that the cost of sickness absence payments made to council staff whilst off work could reach a whopping £2.8 million – that’s without taking into account the cost of overtime and/or temporary cover as their colleagues struggled to cover the workload.
Whilst the figures sound scary, what is more scary is that these figures are lower than the previous three months, where a cost of £3.2 million was reported, according to the Daily Record.
Head of Human Resources for the Council, Iris Wylie explained that these figures were based on Full Time Equivalent Days (FTE) days lost to sickness absence at full pay and does not represent the actual cost of sick pay during this period, which will include some days paid at half pay. However, it does represent just under 10 days per employee per year, which compares unfavourably to the national average excluding the public sector.
Wylie explained: “The figure reflects the payroll costs which would have been paid to the employees as part of their contractual salary payments – whether they were at work or off sick.”
61 per cent of those staff who were ill were on long-term sickness, and the main reasons given were bone, muscle or joint injuries, with stress being the secondary reason (though it was the number one reason in some departments).
Short term sickness absence was mainly attributed to the same causes.
Absence Management Expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence commented:
“These figures sound high, but they are actually towards the low end for public sector workers – I’ve seen far higher. The UK cannot afford it’s sick bill at the moment, and the current methods used to tackle it are not working. Out of date spreadsheets, paper form errors and holiday duplications are not only inefficient, but create more problems than they solve. Managers cannot expect to wave a magic wand, moan about sickness rates and nag their staff back to work – these headlines will persist until the public sector changes their approach to managing sickness absence.”
“In our experience, high rates of sickness are best reduced by identifying stress and health challenges early on, enabling early one-on-one intervention and a more supportive approach to staff wellbeing. Better systems also reduce the workload for the departments tasked with managing people and give them easy access to better information. It also makes it far easier for staff to book holiday and manage parental leave. As for those staff who just ‘take sickies’ (and its probably fewer than the figures suggest), having the right systems in place enables managers to identify and challenge negative behaviours more quickly – they also often cost less than they save.”