The Vale of Glamorgan Council

Cabinet Meeting: 27 July, 2015

Report of the Leader

Sickness Absence Report - April 2014 to March 2015

Purpose of the Report

1.    To update Members of the Cabinet on the sickness absence information for the period 1st April 2014 to 31st March 2015.


1.    That the report and the sickness absence outturn provided in Appendix A be noted.


2.    That the report be referred to Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) for consideration.


3.    To continue to report sickness absence figures 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 enable the Scrutiny Committee to maintain a continued focus on the management of sickness absence throughout all services of the Council.


3.    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.


2.    This report sets out the sickness absence information for the period 1st April 2014 to 31st March 2015. It covers both corporate employees and those employed directly by schools. The outturn figures have been measured against the agreed targets for the financial year.


3.    The report also includes details of sickness absence figures for the previous period (1st April 2013 to 31st March 2014), to assist performance monitoring of sickness absence over the two years, analyse trends, identify patterns and draw meaningful comparisons.


4.    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

5.    The overall average sickness absence rates (per FTE employee) and percentage of working time lost per FTE over each financial year are set out in the table below:


April 2012 -

March 2013

April 2013 -

March 2014

April 2014 -

March 2015
Average days / shifts lost (per FTE) 8.7 8.75 9.44 8.9

6.    The total figures for the period April 2014 to March 2015 indicate an increase on last year's total absence figures, from 8.75 to 9.44 days per full-time equivalent employee (FTE). This represents an increase in absence of 0.69 days lost per FTE employee.


7.    Overall sickness absence levels for the reporting year have come in marginally above the annual target of 8.9 days/shifts per FTE.

Sickness absence by Directorate

8.    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.


2012/13 2013/14 2014/15
Average days / shifts lost per FTE Average days / shifts lost per FTE Average days / shifts lost per FTE Annual target
Social Services 13.71 11.72 12.65 10.92
Development Services 5.51 5.14 7.57 5.31
Visible and Housing Services 12.24 12.95 13.61 11.74
Resources 5.78 6.31 8.36 8.57
Learning and Skills 9.87 8.94 9.06 6.77
Totals - excluding Schools 10.24 9.85 11.00 8.90
Schools 7.05 7.60 7.91
Totals - including Schools 8.70 8.75 9.44 8.90

9.    There is a continued pattern of increasing sickness absence in the corporate outturn figures for the current year when compared with those from 2012/13 onwards. There is also a continuing increase in the sickness absence levels in schools over the last three years.  


10.    The directorates with a significant number of front line employees who undertake manual and physical work continue to have a high level of sickness absence (notably in Visible & Housing Services and Social Services). This is likely to be due to the types of roles and duties undertaken, involving a higher level of exposure to health risks than office based employees.

Reasons for absence

11.    The top reasons for sickness absence in the Council (including in Schools)  over the reporting period April 2014 to March 2015 are listed below, along with a comparison of the previous period (April 2013 to March 2014):


Absence reason 2013/14 2014/15
1 Stress 24.4% 28.1%
2 Operations and Recovery 19.8%
3 Viral Infection 16.3% 16.5%
4 Musculoskeletal Disorders 13.3% 12.2%

12.    Stress remains the main reason for days lost through sickness absence, with over 10,000 days lost. Members will be aware that the causes of such absences are often difficult to determine as the reason for the condition may have originated from home-related stress, work-related stress or a combination of the two. It is concerning however, that stress has increased from 24.4% (2013/14) to 28.1% (2014/15) which has led to a variety of focused measures being implemented to target the incidence of stress. In all cases of stress or anxiety being indicated, employees are automatically referred to occupational health for advice, offered counselling support and managers are offered support in completing stress risk assessments. Stress awareness and stress management training continues to be promoted and offered to both employees to manage personal stress and managers to manage stress within teams. These have been run on a quarterly basis over the reporting period 2014/15 with over 63 employees having attended training.


13.    The counselling provision has been reviewed and it is pleasing to report that this has been extended for another year. The counselling service costs approximately £40,000 per year, with two Counsellors dedicated to support Vale employees. All appointments are booked for employees to be seen within the agreed service level agreement of 10 working days. If the case is urgent, a telephone consultation will be carried out at the point of the employee calling to arrange their appointment. This timely response means that employees can be seen promptly, ensuring the most efficient and effective service is offered to support employees.


14.    Members will be aware of the Council’s recent commitment to support "Time to Change Wales", the movement to end mental health stigma in Wales. The Council has signed a pledge to work towards ending the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems and this includes an action plan to track progress.


15.    Absence due to stress was the primary reason recorded for total sickness absence in each Directorate, with the exception of Resources, where the main reason for absence was recorded as a result of Operations and Recovery.


16.    Stress also 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 37.2%
2 Operations and Recovery 23.0%
3 Musculoskeletal Disorders 13.8%

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


Absence reason Short Term absence
1 Viral Infection 38.9%
2 Stomach Ailments 13.1%
3 Stress 9.2%

Responding to absence

18.    In addition to the measures that have already been 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 contact and communication with employees, along with the involvement of occupational health to support and expedite the employees return to the workplace, along with any appropriate adjustments deemed to be necessary. The Head of Human Resources continues to hold a dedicated review of the top 50 ongoing absence management cases on a monthly basis.


19.    Sickness flagging reports are produced on a monthly basis for managers across all Services. Personnel Officers work with managers to use these as a tool to identify any patterns of absence and trigger any necessary action/intervention as appropriate in accordance with the Management of Attendance Policy.


20.    Eight management of attendance training courses and management of attendance refresher training courses have been run over the reporting period. This equates to a course being held approximately every six weeks. The courses aim to ensure managers receive training to be able to effectively manage absence and ensure compliance with the policy. The course places an emphasis on managers conducting and completing return to work (RTW) interviews. Managers are encouraged to use the interview to provide the framework for discussions between the manager and employee to consider reasons for the absence, explore underlying issues or trends and to identify support appropriate to promote and sustain the employees' return to work.


21.    The existing Management of Attendance Policy has been reviewed and is currently under consultation with the recognised trade unions. It is anticipated that the new policy and procedures will raise the profile of health and wellbeing and supplement the continued focus on the management of employee absence and attendance.


22.    With the anticipation and potential uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Reshaping Services Programme, employee briefing sessions have been arranged for all staff to ensure that all Council employees are engaged with the process, feel involved and supported. An important part of the engagement sessions is the introduction to the development of a new employee contract and gaining employees' contribution towards creating this. At the time of writing this report, over 1,300 employees have attended the employee briefing sessions.


23.    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.


24.    The Occupational Health provision has been reviewed, with the appointment of a new Occupational Health Nurse Manager in February. The service is currently being reviewed to ensure a proactive approach to improve and promote general employee wellness, not just supporting employees who are not in work through sickness absence. This will raise the visible profile of health issues, offer guidance and support on common topics, and engage with employees on overall health and wellbeing.


25.    Occupational Health is a specialist branch of medicine focusing on the health of employees in the specific workplace and work environment. Their aim is to determine the impact of work on employee health and ensure they are fit to undertake the role in which they are employed, whilst advising both employees and managers on any adjustments that may need to be made to undertake their role safely and effectively. The Occupational Health Nurse Manager will be engaging with Chief Officers to determine what they are looking for from their Occupational Health Service, how to best streamline processes and raise the profile of wellness in work.


26.    The flu vaccination scheme has once again been extremely popular this year. This aims to minimise the levels of sickness absence due to seasonal flu. The number of flu vaccinations that were administered to employees in each Directorate are shown in the table below, along with the percentage of the average headcount for the Directorate:

Directorate Number of flu vaccinations % of average headcount
Social Services 129 21%
Development Services 47 19%
Visible and Housing Services 104 15%
Resources 146 39%
Learning and Skills 39 6%
Totals - excluding Schools 465 18%
Schools 874 31%
Totals - including Schools 1339 25%

27.    A quarter of council employees (including those employed in schools) received a flu vaccination. This represents an increased uptake on the vaccinations provided in previous years. The total number of employees receiving the flu vaccination in the previous two financial years can be seen in the table below. This has also been shown as a percentage of the total average headcount:

2012-2013 2013-2014
Number of flu vaccinations % of average headcount Number of flu vaccinations % of average headcount
1131 21% 1285 24%

28.    Flu vaccinations are offered to all employees and are carried out by the Occupational Health team, with costs being recharged to the appropriate departments.


29.    Members will note the Attendance Action Plan that is contained in Appendix B to this report. This outlines the targeted approach to addressing the days/shifts lost through sickness absence and demonstrates the continued work and commitment of managers and employees in relation to the management of attendance.

Absence in wider comparison

30.    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. This figure was revised by the Local Government Data Unit in November 2014 from 9.7 working days/shifts lost per FTE. The Council's sickness absence levels in 2013/2014 were within the top five local authorities reporting the lowest levels of sickness absence.


31.    The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported in 2014 that a mean average of 8.0 days were lost per employee reported in Local Government. This is in comparison with an average of 9.44 days lost per FTE in 2014/15 in the Council. It is worth noting that the CIPD’s measure is by employee (or headcount) whereas the measure used at the Council (and all other local authorities in Wales) for comparison purposes is FTE, which is a smaller figure to produce an average.


32.    The CIPD also reported that larger organisations tend to have higher levels of absence than smaller ones, regardless of the sector. They reported that organisations with more than 5,000 employees (such as the Council) have a mean average sickness absence rate of 10.1 days lost per employee. This is higher than the absence rate within the Council of 9.44 days lost per FTE in 2014/15.


33.    These comparisons are shown in Appendix C.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

34.    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

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

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

36.    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

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

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

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

Corporate/Service Objectives

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

Policy Framework and Budget

40.    This report is a matter for the Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

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

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

42.    Corporate Resources

Background Papers   

Appendix A - Breakdown of Directorate absence by Services (April 2014 - March 2015)

Appendix B - Attendance Action Plan 2015/2016

Appendix C - Absence in wider comparison

Contact Officer

Adrian Unsworth - Operational Manager Human Resources 01446 709359

Officers Consulted

Corporate Management Team

Responsible Officer

Rob Thomas, Managing Director