Why are so many York council staff falling ill? 23K days lost to absence in 2018

Councillors say they are “alarmed” that staff sickness figures have remained high at the local authority after it was revealed that 23,000 working days were lost to absence last year.

In October councillors were asked to put £180,000 towards tackling the problem after hearing that the average number of sick days at City of York Council was 11.5.

The average number of annual sick days in the public sector is 8.5.

But a report prepared for a council meeting on Tuesday said there had been a very slight increase, from 11.5 to 11.66 sick days, in September 2018.

Stress and mental health

Documents say 30 per cent of absences are down to stress and mental health issues.

Cllr John Galvin, speaking at the meeting, called for more to be done to look after employees. He said:

  • Taking care of staff is very important.

    I would like to know what is being done to find out what is the underlying cause of stress and mental health problems. Stress is a hidden illness and it’s something that needs to be seriously looked at – it’s about employers having a deep sense of care for their staff.

The meeting heard that the £180,000 will be put towards funding a dedicated team to reduce absence rates by a third by April 2021, but the procurement process is still underway.

The scheme will be joined up with the council’s occupational health service to offer a “holistic” approach.

‘A Titanic issue’

Cllr Dafydd Williams said: “We still appear to be speeding up, because although the numbers are beginning to stabilise, they’re still increasing, which has got to be something of a concern because we should at least be seeing a slow reversal.

“We’re not seeing that, which should cause some alarm.”

Cllr Neil Barnes added: “Statistics seem to be leaning on an increase. We could be nearly a year on and see no sign of the Titanic being turned around at all on sickness absence.”

Pauline Stuchfield, assistant director of customer services, said the council does offer good support for staff. She added: “It is a Titanic issue and whilst the figures have stabilised, to change the culture is a huge thing to deal with.”

The occupational health contract will be discussed at a council meeting on Thursday.

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