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The Vale of Glamorgan Council

Cabinet Meeting: 30 November, 2015

Report of the Leader

Sickness Absence Report - April 2015 to September 2015

Purpose of the Report

  1. To update Members of the Cabinet on the sickness absence information for the half year period 1st April 2015 to 30th September 2015.

Recommendations

  1. That the report, and the sickness absence outturn provided in Appendix A be noted.
  2. That Members note the progress of the action plan as attached in Appendix B.
  3. That the report be referred to Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) for consideration.
  4. That sickness absence figures continue to be reported to Cabinet every 6 months.

Reasons for the Recommendations

  1. To bring matters to the attention of Members of the Cabinet in line with corporate objectives.
  2. To inform Members of the Cabinet of the progress in relation to the agreed management of attendance action plan.
  3. To enable the Scrutiny Committee to maintain a continued focus on the management of sickness absence throughout all services of the Council.
  4. To provide Members with the opportunity to review sickness absence in relation to the Management of Absence policy, monitor progress and compare outturn against set targets, on a half-yearly basis.

Background

  1. The management of attendance and the levels of sickness absence are reported to Cabinet every six months. An action plan was outlined in the report to Cabinet on 27th July 2015 to address the issue of sickness absence and the slight increase in levels in the previous 12 months. An update on progress is contained within this report and set out in detail in Appendix B.
  2. This report sets out the sickness absence information for the period 1st April 2015 to 30th September 2015, including corporate and schools employees. It also includes details of sickness absence figures for the period 1st April 2014 to 30th September 2014 for comparative purposes.
  3. This report acknowledges the work and commitment of all managers and employees in relation to the continual management of sickness absence.

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. The overall sickness absence rates (i.e. working time lost per FTE) over the period April to September are set out in the table below with a comparison to the same point in previous years:
 

 

April - Sept 2013

April - Sept 2014

April - Sept 2015

Target (half-year)

Average days/shifts lost

(per FTE)

4.05

4.35

4.28

4.45

  1. The average days/shifts lost per FTE for the period April to September 2015 indicate a reduction on the half-year absence figures in comparison with 2014 (from 4.35 to 4.28 days lost per FTE).
  2. Overall sickness absence levels for the half-year to September 2015 have come in below the half-year target of 4.45 days/shifts per FTE.

Sickness absence by Directorate

  1. A summary of the absence within each Directorate is set out below. A further breakdown of absence in each Service area is included within Appendix A.
  

April to Sept 2013

April to Sept 2014

April to Sept 2015

  

Average days / shifts lost per FTE

Average days / shifts lost per FTE

Average days / shifts lost per FTE

Revised half-year target

Revised annual target

Directorate

Social Services

5.42

6.31

6.74

5.8

11.6

Development Services

3.07

2.96

 

 

 

Environment & Housing Services

6.93

6.42

6.53

5.85

11.7

Resources

3.21

4.00

2.67

3.75

7.5

Learning and Skills

3.41

4.04

4.59

4.15

8.3

Totals - excluding Schools

4.79

5.19

5.35

4.45

8.9

Schools

3.27

3.53

3.15

   

Totals - including Schools

4.05

4.35

4.28

4.45

8.9

  1. There continues to be a pattern of increasing sickness absence in the total corporate figures (5.35 days lost per FTE) when comparing with 2013 (4.79 days lost per FTE) and 2014 (5.19 days lost per FTE).
  2. It is difficult to draw meaningful comparisons with the data from previous years, due to the significant organisational changes that have occurred over the last 12 months. For example the TUPE transfer of employees to the Vale of Glamorgan Council from Cardiff County Council and Bridgend County Borough Council on 1st May 2015 to create the Shared Regulatory Services, and the Senior Management Restructures of Resources and Development Services and Visible and Housing Services.
  3. Members will be pleased to note that there are a lower number of days lost per FTE in Resources than recorded in the previous two years, and the levels of sickness absence are below the Resources target for the half-year period.
  4. There is also a lower level of sickness absence recorded in schools than during the same period in 2014. This is helping to support the overall half yearly performance in sickness absence rates at 4.28 days per employee.
  5. Members will note the increase of sickness absence in the Directorates of Social Services, Environment and Housing, and Learning and Skills, when comparing the sickness figures for the same period in 2014.
  6. Members will note the action plan that is attached in Appendix B. This contains arrangements to address sickness absence within each Directorate, including service specific considerations.
  7. The individual Directorate targets for 2015/2016 have been revised following consideration at CMT on 23rd September 2015. The revised targets are now based on the actual year end performance figures within each Directorate for 2014/15 minus 8.65%. This approach is intended to strike a balance between reflecting the unique circumstances within service areas whilst maintaining the overall corporate target of 8.9 days lost per FTE.

Reasons for absence

  1. The most common reasons for sickness absence in the Council (including in Schools) over the period April to September 2015 are listed below, along with a comparison of the previous period (April to September 2014):
 

 

Absence reason

April to Sept 2014

April to Sept 2015

1

Stress

30.7%

31.7%

2

Operations and Recovery

18.9%

16.9%

3

Musculoskeletal Disorders

12.7%

14.0%

4

Viral Infection

12.1%

14.0%

  1. Stress continues to be the most common reason for sickness absence in the Council. Members will be aware that in all cases of stress or anxiety, employees are automatically referred to occupational health for advice, offered counselling support and managers are offered support in completing stress risk assessments.
  2. Absence due to stress was the primary reason recorded for total sickness absence in each Directorate, with the exception of Resources, where the most common reason for absence was recorded as being the result of operations and the recovery period.
  3. The reasons for long-term absence mirror the reasons for total sickness absence in the Council. Stress remains the main reason for long-term absences, followed by Operations and Recovery and Musculoskeletal Disorders, as outlined below:
 
 

Absence reason

Long Term absence

1

Stress

39.7%

2

Operations and Recovery

20.5%

3

Musculoskeletal Disorders

15.7%

  1. Viral infections remain the main reason recorded for short-term intermittent absences, followed by Stress and Stomach Ailments, as outlined below:
 
 

Absence reason

Short Term absence

1

Viral Infection

32.2%

2

Stress

13.0%

3

Stomach Ailments

11.9%

Cost of absence

  1. The cost of sickness absence is greater than the payment of occupational sick pay. It can include, for example, the costs of obtaining agency staff, supply teachers or relief staff, or making overtime payments to cover critical service delivery.
  2. A loss of productivity, reduction in service provision and the workload implications on colleagues in work are also an indirect consequence of increasing sickness absence.
  3. It is imperative therefore, in the context of current financial challenges that early intervention measures are taken to support the health and well-being of staff and the minimisation of long periods of sickness absence.
  4. A working estimation of the direct costs associated with sickness absence for the financial year 2014-2015, based on the cover costs for front line staff is approximately £900,000.

Responding to absence

  1. Although the half year figures are encouraging, the sickness absence figures from previous years show that quarters 1 and 2 are historically under target whilst the sickness absence levels increase over the winter period (quarters 3 and 4).
  2. In view of the above it will be important to ensure that there remains a strong focus on the management of attendance for the remaining half of 2015/2016 and the recent increase in absence levels are responded to.
  3. In the context of the above Members will be aware of the robust actions that have been put in place to support the management of attendance. These include the strengthening of performance management measures, the increase in positive health promotion, the review of the management attendance at work policy and the continued roll-out of the wider staff engagement strategy.

Performance Management

  1. An action plan was included in the sickness absence report to Cabinet on 27th July 2015. This has now been developed to include a detailed account of the type and regularity of information provided to management to support the monitoring of sickness absence levels. This information will help Directors, Heads of Services and Operational Managers to follow up on the actions that have been taken to address absence within teams.
  2. A summary of the revised performance management arrangements are set out below and the full action plan is contained within Appendix B:
 

Report to

Description

Regularity

Cabinet / Scrutiny

General sickness absence performance

Six monthly

CMT

Performance across all Directorates

Monthly

DMT

Performance within each Directorate

Monthly

Director

Highest priority long and short term cases

Monthly

Managers / Supervisors

Sickness flagging reports

Monthly

  1. A copy of the detailed breakdown of sickness absence levels per FTE within each Directorate, including details in relation to long-term sickness and the most frequent occurrences of absence will continue to be sent for consideration at individual Directorate Management Teams on a monthly basis. This will allow Directors/Heads of Service to review and focus on areas with high levels of sickness absence or long-term absence cases with the appropriate line manager(s).
  2. A report containing the breakdown of sickness absence levels per FTE across all Directorates will be reviewed at CMT each month. This report is in the same format as that within Appendix A.
  3. Managers and Supervisors will continue to receive sickness flagging reports on a monthly basis from TransAct. These reports identify all sickness absences, the reason and duration of the absence and the stage of the management of attendance policy that has been triggered against each individual. Personnel Officers work with managers to use this information as a tool to identify any patterns of absence and trigger any necessary supportive action.
  4. In addition to the measures outlined above, long-term sickness absence cases continue to be dealt with on an individual case management basis. Personnel Officers work closely with managers to maintain communication with employees, along with Occupational Health, to support employees' wellbeing and their return to work.
  5. The Head of Human Resources continues to hold a dedicated review of the top 50 on-going long term absence management cases from across the Council on a monthly basis.

Positive health promotion

  1. Work is continuing to develop positive health support mechanisms in line with the action plan (Appendix B). A summary of developments is as follows:
  • Dates are being arranged for the Occupational Health Manager to visit Directorate Management Team meetings during November/December 2015. The objective will be discuss the support available from the Occupational Health Service, how to best streamline processes and to raise the profile of wellness in work.
  • Members will note that the flu vaccination strategy for 2015/2016 has begun, with the demand remaining high across the key service areas.
  • A variety of health events are being planned for the remainder of the financial year to promote positive health (including for example smoking cessation sessions, stress awareness, fitness and health etc.). This will raise the visible profile of health issues, offer guidance and support on common topics, and provide an opportunity for the engagement of employees on the promotion of their health and general wellbeing.
  • A set of tool-kits / guidance notes are currently being developed to help managers to respond to the "top four" reasons for absence (i.e. stress, operations/recovery, viral infections and muscular skeletal disorders).
  1. Insurance schemes to cover sickness and support interventions are being explored to evaluate the cost effectiveness and the viability of this option. Options would include the possibility of insuring in-house (following the lines of the school staff sickness insurance scheme) or to go out to tender for quotes.
  2. Public Health Wales indicate that in most years, the flu vaccine is about 50% effective and reduces the risk of influenza by half for those who receive it. The strains of flu can change from year to year and it was apparent, in hindsight that the strains in the vaccine were not a good 'match' for the strains circulating in 2014. These have been changed for 2015.
  3. The uptake of flu vaccinations in the Vale of Glamorgan has increased over the last three years and is believed to be of continued benefit to protect employees, in front line service areas from influenza. The flu vaccination offers 12 months cover, protecting those who have it from one year to another. Although the effectiveness cannot currently be monitored on an individual basis, the wider benefit to the community of offering the flu vaccination includes protecting friends, family and service providers from contact with flu and the associated risks.
  4. All job roles and activities have been and continue to be risk assessed and all accidents and incidents are investigated by managers and where appropriate, by the Corporate Health and Safety Team. This approach aims to identify and implement measures to prevent accidents or the potential for accidents or incidents to occur in the future. Manual handling training is provided on an ongoing basis to minimise the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. Competency assessments have been introduced to monitor the implementation and compliance of appropriate manual handling techniques.

Revised Managing Attendance at Work Policy

  1. Final discussions and consultations on the revised Managing Attendance at Work Policy are currently being concluded. It is anticipated that a new policy and procedures will further raise the profile of health and wellbeing and supplement the continued focus on the management of employee absence and attendance.
  2. It is expected that a final report will be brought to Cabinet in January 2016 with a view to setting a programme of training for managers between January and March 2016 and to launch the new policy in April 2016. These training courses will aim to support managers to effectively manage absence and to achieve compliance with the new policy. The courses will reinforce the importance of the return to work (RTW) interviews, to consider reasons for absence, explore underlying issues or trends and to identify appropriate means to promote and sustain the employee's return and retention at work.

Wider Engagement Strategy

  1. Members will be aware that a staff engagement strategy was launched in June 2015 as part of the of the Reshaping Services Strategy and to help employees understand the challenges facing the Council, engage with the "reshaping" process, feel involved and supported and ultimately help shape a new employment relationship.
  2. As part of the above some 1,800 employees attended 65 briefing sessions between June and August 2015, hosted by the Council's Corporate Management Team and run across a number of venues across the Vale of Glamorgan.
  3. Volunteers from those briefing sessions have now attended "follow-up" conferences to help develop actions plans in relation to four key areas; communications, manager/employee relations, engagement /innovation and training and development.
  4. It is strongly felt that the effectiveness of the Council's employee engagement strategy will have a positive impact on staff engagement and ultimately therefore on attendance levels across the Council.

Absence in wider comparison

  1. Overall sickness absence levels within the Council and schools remain lower than the average sickness absence levels of 10.1 working days/shifts lost per FTE (2013/2014) reported for all local authorities in Wales.
  2. Updated data on sickness absence in local authorities in Wales, covering the period April 2014 to March 2015 is expected to be available from the Local Government Data Unit in December 2015 details of which will be reported in the next report.
  3. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported in 2015 that in Local Government a mean average of 7.9 days were lost per employee. This is in comparison with an average of 6.8 days lost per employee when analysing absence by headcount rather than by FTE.
  4. It is worth noting that the measure used by the Council (and all other local authorities in Wales) for comparison purposes is days/shifts lost per FTE, which is a smaller figure to produce an average.
  5. Further comparisons of the performance of days lost through sickness absence in the Vale of Glamorgan will be conducted following March 2016, to allow for meaningful comparisons over 12 months against those of previous years.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. The incidence of high levels of absence has significant resource implications and places constraints on the continued delivery of high quality service provision. The need to continue to maintain reasonable levels of absence will be important as the Council responds to ongoing financial pressures and the implementation of the Reshaping Services Programme.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. There are no sustainability or climate change implications directly arising from the content of this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. All legal implications including the Human Rights Act and Data Protection Act will have been considered within the implementation of policy provisions.

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. There are no crime and disorder implications directly arising from the content of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. In progressing the Attendance Policy the Council will remain compliant with its obligations under the Equality Act.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. The Council will be unable to deliver corporate objectives without keeping absence levels to a minimum.

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. The overall sickness absence figures are reported quarterly through the Corporate Performance Indicators.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. Corporate Resources

Background Papers               

Appendix A - Breakdown of Directorate absence by Services (April - September 2015)

Appendix B - Management of attendance action plan 2015/2016

Contact Officer

Adrian Unsworth - Operational Manager Human Resources 01446 709359

Officers Consulted

Corporate Management Team

Responsible Officer

Rob Thomas, Managing Director

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