Agenda item

Sickness Levels within Chichester District Council

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee considers the agenda report and its four appendices and is requested to consider the following recommendation:


That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee reviews the current position regarding sickness absence within Chichester District Council and the proposed actions as set out in paras 5.1 to 5.5 of the agenda report.


This item was presented by Mr Mildred. Mr Radcliffe was also present.


Mr Mildred summarised the report with particular reference to sections 3, 4 and 5. He also circulated 2016/17 benchmarking figures from the LGA Workforce Survey. He explained that there were many reasons why the level of sickness absence appeared high. Notably, following the transfer of Westgate staff the figures had increased as the Westgate staff had always averaged lower sickness absence. It can also be difficult to compare results with other local authorities as the council has an in-house Depot where others have outsourced. Due to the nature of the manual work at the Depot its staff often have higher levels of sickness absence. Mr Radcliffe added that the figures for smaller teams are often skewed if there is one long term sickness case.


Mr Mildred emphasised that the approach to sickness absence moving forwards would be more personalised. He explained that currently sickness is recorded on the online HR system and in some cases it was possible that there had been a lack of face to face discussion with the manager on return to work. In addition (where appropriate) resilience will now be tested at job interview stage.


The Absence Management Policy is to be rewritten and the new policy will set out clearly the expectations for both employees and managers. New triggers for welfare meetings and formal cautions are to be set and will help improve consistency of application. Methods of notification of sickness and back to work interviews will also be prescribed in the policy, again improving consistency of application. The corporate Stress Risk Assessment procedure is also being updated and will focus on personalised wellbeing plans to ensure that the council is doing all it can support employees and reduce stress related absence.


Mr Mildred emphasised that the council is already proactively managing sickness and the formal management processes have resulted in several dismissals each year in recent years.


The Committee received answers to questions including the following:


·       Why has there been a rise in the average number of sickness absence days over the last six years compared to the Office of National Statistics downward trend? The figures for the Office of National Statistics include those who are self-employed who are more likely to continue to work through illness compared to an employee who may be signed off by a doctor and therefore unable to return to the workplace as quickly. The council has experienced a significant growth in the amount of long term sickness in that six year period.

  • Could stress related sickness be compared with the private sector as well as other local authorities? Where appropriate private sector best practice is considered although stress has risen nationally not just in local authorities.
  • Did the Shared Services project have an effect on stress related absence? The teams affected by the Shared Services project have not seen high stress related absence rates.
  • Could the increase in stress be due to a greater nationwide mental health issue? In most cases of stress the underlying root cause is from issues or events outside of the work place. The council offers counselling services through the Employee Assistance Programme which is a confidential service available to all staff.
  • Face to face return to work interviews are key. Will managers be specifically trained in this process? Face to face interviews should already be taking place however they are not necessarily formally carried out in all cases of sickness absence. Under the new Absence Management Policy the interviews are compulsory and will be formally recorded. These interviews should help pick up significant issues or underlying concerns relating to the sickness. As part of ongoing development managers will be trained on how to carry out the process.
  • Why are sickness absence levels so different at the Depot? The nature of the work at the depot affects the levels of sickness and this is consistent with in house depot services nationally. The depot’s sick pay is less generous than that of the rest of the council, this is permitted due to them being on a pay scheme that is outside of National Joint Council and its associated requirements on sick pay. Whilst the level of absence remains concerning, monthly meetings continue to be held with the Depot management and HR to review all long term sickness cases.
  • Is the council too lenient on absence? The council has an Absence Management Policy. Staff who suffer ill health are supported through the process however, it is sometimes necessary for the council to terminate employment if it becomes apparent that a member of staff will be unable to return to work. The council is limited in potential changes to the sick pay scheme as a member of the National Joint Council (NJC) Framework as being part of the scheme requires minimum levels of sick pay to be adhered to.
  • Is the flexible working policy effective? Overall the flexible working policy has been effective and it is valued by staff. Flexible working allows staff to work from home and work outside core business hours if it suits the business needs. Some teams have less flexibility due to the nature of their job roles. It is important that staff are not working when they are sick/not fit for work however each case is considered separately and where appropriate phased returns or working from home will be agreed (e.g. broken ankle).
  • Could the sickness absence rates be separated for current staff and staff who have now left the council? The current figures provide a meaningful comparison but some clarification comments could be provided.
  • Why have revisions been made to the key absence management documents? Are there concerns that suggest a full review is required? A full review has been carried out which is why there are suggested changes to key documents. Officers will continue to consult with the Joint Employee Consultative Panel to ensure staff involvement in the revisions.


The Committee felt it would be appropriate to receive a progress update in six month’s time.




1.     That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee notes the current position regarding sickness absence within Chichester District Council and the proposed actions as set out in paragraphs 5.1 to 5.5 of the agenda report.

  1. That the Committee be provided with a progress update at its meeting in January 2019.


The Committee took a short break.

Supporting documents: