It was suggested that a more flexible means of working had contributed to the figures, however Alderman Sharon McKillop suggested more needed to be done to analyse and understand the impact of sickness and absenteeism, writes Gillian Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter.
The report brought before the Corporate Policy and Resources Committee noted that during 2020/21 the quarterly reporting of the Council’s Absenteeism Dashboard demonstrated that long term sickness and the average days lost per employee across the Council are improving.
Whilst improvements have been made in 2020/21, the senior Council Officers still see absenteeism as an important issue for them, and would like to see continued improvements going forward.
It noted that there was a 2.75% reduction in the number of days lost to Council through long term sickness (9,382.64 days in 2019/20, and 6,128.20 days in 2020/21) and a 2.5% reduction in the average number of days lost per employee through sickness absenteeism (17.66 days per employee in 2019/20, and 11.41 in 2020/21).
It also stated that 470 staff members engaged in Council’s wellbeing activities with 93 participants involved in the Council’s walking challenges; a further six employees have joined the Council’s gyms and 371 staff completed online mental health courses.
Whilst saying it was ‘great’ to see absenteeism reduced, DUP Alderman George Duddy asked for a breakdown of figures.
“I would like to see a breakdown of sickness records of those from our Environmental Services team who have been out and about working through the pandemic on the front line compared to those who were working from home,” he said. “That would give us an understanding of how effective working from home has been over the last year.”
Director of Corporate Services, Moira Quinn confirmed it was ‘indeed possible’ adding; “It would take a little time but we do hold that information and we can get that for you.”
Continuing, Alderman Duddy said: “That would be fantastic to see in the very near future just to give us an understanding. I think that is something everyone is asking at the moment given everything that is going on with Covid.
“It’s very encouraging to see that it is well down and we have to give thanks to our staff and encourage them as far as possible to continue the downward trend.
“I do think even though it was an unusual year that we are going to be going into the same sort of year this incoming year given everything that is going on.”
UUP Alderman Joan Baird felt there was a need to ‘look deeper’.
She added; “I’ve a feeling the improvement is due to more flexibility within the system and that’s worth looking at.
“I think we should also look at productivity as well because I think it might point towards a more flexible approach to working hours and that would be welcomed if it was improving productivity in the council.”
Alderman Sharon McKillop also welcomed the reduction in absenteeism adding; “I’ve also stated before that it is still at an unsustainable level.
“There is something that we and all other councils should be doing and that’s measuring, analysing and understanding the impact of sickness and absenteeism. I don’t believe any council does it according to the NIAO report which analyses council data on sickness and absenteeism.
“I would like that to be raised at some point and looked at. It doesn’t matter if other councils are doing it or not, I think we should be doing it and put any other measures in place to make sure we know exactly where we are at in relation to our staff wellbeing, sickness and what’s causing it. I would like to see more information being brought forward on this in the future.”
Ballymoney Councillor Alan McLean asked the Director if there was a system of interviewing a member of staff when they returned from sickness which Ms Quinn confirmed.
“We conduct interviews and there is very close monitoring,” she said. “There is quite a detailed mechanism in place with regards reviewing and monitoring the sickness as well.
“Regardless of the duration there is a return to work interview in terms of what support mechanisms are in place and to avoid a recurrence where possible.”
Councillor McLean then asked if the actual day people are sick is also monitored saying: “Whilst we note the total number of days they are off, do we monitor what days, is it Mondays or Fridays because I know they always used to be popular scenarios or school holidays or stuff like that where people may be more inclined to be sick more often than other times of the year.”
Ms Quinn responded: “All of that is monitored and there is quite a detailed report taken through to the Audit Committee on a quarterly basis in terms of the monitoring and then drilling down into a lot of statistics in terms of cost and causes as well.
“Most of the council’s absences are long term absences, around 80% of it, so I suppose it is moving away from those days you have referred to like a Monday or school holidays.”
Councillor McLean added ‘if the bulk of it is long term then that’s good.’