Covid cases, staff mental health, stress and back issues were the predominant factors in a higher-than-average level of staff absence at Gedling Borough Council over the last year.
The Labour-led authority has confirmed the number of days lost per employee was almost 25 per cent above target in the 12 months to March 2022, with each employee missing 11.22 days on average.
This was higher than the nine-day target set nationally for local authorities across the country.
Figures for March alone show Covid and isolation periods played a major part in increasing the authority’s figure, with 103 out of a total 386 absences relating to the virus.
Across the whole financial year, sickness and isolation due to Covid-19 accounted for 13.5 per cent of all absences within the organisation.
David Archer, head of human resources performance and service planning on the authority, says the situation with the virus progressively got worse throughout the financial year.
But speaking in the council’s joint consultative and safety committee on Tuesday (June 7), he stressed the council’s absences are not “outstanding” compared with other Nottinghamshire councils.
He said: “At the start of the year, losses due to Covid were fairly small as a proportion, but as the year went on with strains of Covid that were more virulent, absences and days lost began to increase dramatically.
“By the year-end, we lost 103 days out of 386 because of Covid and, as the year went on, it had more and more impact.”
He told councillors there are no proposals to review the target of employee absences because it has been “achievable” prior to the pandemic.
“The hope would be that, as Covid becomes more endemic, we will manage those absences within normal policies,” he added.
“Because, predominantly I suppose, the effect of Covid becomes less and less, we’d expect the days lost because of that to reduce going forwards.”
However, alongside Covid, Mr Archer says back problems and employee stress and mental health issues also caused the 12-month figure to rise.
He told the meeting that the stress “isn’t necessarily work-related” but confirmed there was a “marked increase” in stress and depression cases within the authority.
He added: “It’s probably not surprising when you think about a recent survey showing people thought their mental health had worsened during the last year.
“The absence really levels really do support that feeling, I suppose.”
He told the meeting the authority has an active wellbeing programme to support staff with their mental health, with the organisation also “actively” promoting one-to-one support for staff.
Further training courses took place in April to support staff with their mental health.
“It has been a problem [but] we’ve tried to do things about it and the hope, as we return to a new normal, is things will become calmer,” he said
The back problems, he added, relate to some frontline workers doing manual work in their roles – as well as some staff working from home.
“Proper assessments have been taken for people at home, the concern was some people might suffer from back problems due to unsuitable work stations but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Speaking after Mr Archer’s report, Councillor Paul Wilkinson (Lab), who represents Carlton, described the absence figures as “disappointing”.
However, he praised the work of Mr Archer’s team and said he believes the authority is doing what it can to bring absence levels down.
He said: “It is a little bit disappointing but I think we all understand the reasons why [the figure is higher than the target].
“I know [Mr Archer] and his team are doing all they can to keep absences down.”