To provide the Board with detail of the
Council’s performance in relation to the management of
employee sickness absence and details of current and proposed
interventions to reduce levels.
The Head of Human Resources introduced the report to the Scrutiny Board.
Members were advised that since the 2019 Annual Sickness Absence report received by the Scrutiny Board, the sickness absence rate had fallen to 9.9 days per FTE (Full Time Equivalent) to June 2020. For the year ending 30th September 2020 the level of sickness had fallen further to 9.42 days per FTE. The total number of days lost for the same period was 17,074. For the year ending 31 March 2020 the total number of days lost was 22,134, representing a 23% reduction in sickness absence. Year ending to November 2020 sickness absence figures stood at 9.16 days per FTE. Members were informed that the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) had set a target of 9.9 days sickness absence per FTE to 31 March 2021.
In terms of sickness absence breakdown by Directorate, Members were advised that Adult Social Care and Children’s Services reported the highest sickness absence days per FTE, although there had been a reduction of 1,000 sickness absence days for conditions related to mental Health. Of that total, one-third of reported mental health conditions were reported as for personal reasons. The majority of sickness absence days relating to mental health were reported from the Adult Social Care and Children’s Services Directorates.
Since the start of the pandemic period and up to 30 September 2020, Covid-19 had resulted in sickness absence totalling 972 days, representing 5% of the total sickness absence.
The Council had undertaken a survey of all its employees to ascertain how staff were working and feeling during the pandemic period. A total of 1,730 responses were received, comprising of over 9,000 individual comments. Of the response, the overwhelming majority welcomed the ability to work from home in support of a positive work / life balance, providing the means better physical fitness and to support one of the Council’s corporate objectives of delivering zero carbon through a significant reduction in commuting to the office. However, it should also be noted that some employees had reported missing the office environment. The findings of the survey would help shape future HR strategies going forward.
Members were also advised of the Council’s Well-Being Action Plan and of the receipt by the Council of the WMCA Thrive at Work accreditation at Bronze level, the first local authority to achieve the accreditation. The Council was now seeking to achieve Silver status accreditation moving forward.
Following receipt of the presentation, Members submitted a number of related questions to the report, which in summary included the following matters:
Councillor Allen stated that she was concerned with the level of sickness absence in the Adult Social Care and Children’s Service Directorates, querying whether there were any underlying factors other than those associated with the complexities and stress often associated with the roles in these Directorates. Councillor Allen further referenced the Compliments and Complaints Report and noted that both services had received the highest number of complaints. Councillor Allen questioned whether staff in these services were valued and paid adequately and were the Council’s recruitment and retention policies adequate.
The Scrutiny Board was informed that the sickness absence figures for the two services were higher compared to the wider Council workforce, which could be attributed to the nature of the two services, i.e. largely ‘front-line’ in nature with staff being susceptible to transmission of illnesses and infections.
Sickness absence was reviewed on a monthly basis and the reported figures were an improvement compared to previous years reporting. It was also reported that Adult Social Care had seen an increase in mental health sickness absence. Specific attention was paid to mental health related absence by CLT and respective Directorate Management Teams and the Council’s line-managers also received training to facilitate support of staff in this area.
Councillor Parker noted and supported the reported aligning of the Council’s Workplace Wellbeing Priorities 2020/21 with the Council’s priorities. Councillor Parker further noted that front-line staff, such as those in the Adult Social Care and Children’s Services Directorates, were open to infections and in the case of Covid-19 transmission would be subject to self-isolation at home. The Head of Human Resources advised that in any such cases where Covid-19 had been contracted through workplace duties resulting in a requirement for self-isolation, the resulting absence was not counted as part of the sickness absence figures. Furthermore, any office based staff who were self-isolating could continue to work from home.
Councillor Qais questioned whether the Council Staff Survey analysis facilitated further drilling down of the data for gender, disabilities, and age profiles. Members were informed that the Staff Survey led to the production of a corporate report, which could be analysed at the level of Team, Service, Division and Directorate. An Action Plan had subsequently been developed to address any areas of concern, as well as capturing any equalities implications. The Council’s Employee Assistance Programme also facilitated referrals to the Occupational Health Service (OHS), which provided services including counselling and financial advice. Members were advised that the OHS was well utilised, with users identity kept anonymous.
Having considered the report, the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board:
(i) To note the report and endorsed the actions identified within it.