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93,000 days lost to council staff sick leave

PUBLISHED: 17:32 19 August 2009 | UPDATED: 10:13 12 August 2010

EMPLOYEE sick leave and long-term absence due to stress could have cost a council some £5.6 million, an exclusive Times investigation has revealed. Bromley council workers were off for a total of 93,100 days spanning a two-and-a-half year period from Jan

EMPLOYEE sick leave and long-term absence due to stress could have cost a council some £5.6 million, an exclusive Times investigation has revealed.

Bromley council workers were off for a total of 93,100 days spanning a two-and-a-half year period from January 2007 to June 2009, Freedom of Information Act figures have uncovered.

Some 11,719 days were lost due to stress-related illness alone, with the longest period of absence falling just five days short of a year.

The figures equate to an average of 8.2 days of absence a year for EVERY central council worker and 5.3 days for every teacher per year.

According to public sector human resources experts, sick leave costs an average £60 in lost time, meaning Bromley council could have shelled out £5.6 million of taxpayers' money due to absent staff.

Commenting on the figures, director of the International Stress Management Association, Jenny Edwards, said: "There is an enormous cost factor and particularly at the moment when councils need to be saving money they should be addressing it.

"Generally if you have high absenteeism or high stress-related illness rates it shows poor management.

"There is no simple answer to why public sector workers have higher rates of stress absenteeism.

"It is difficult to know for sure that someone is really suffering from stress. You have to rely on immeasurable information such as them saying 'I have back pain, I have been bursting into tears, I am drinking more than normal'.

"Undoubtedly people feel more secure in the public sector, that the consequences for absenteeism in terms of promotion and job loss are less severe."

Stress-induced sickness costs the UK billions and is the second cause of absenteeism, after musculoskeletal injuries.

One former teacher, 56, from Bickley, who has worked in various educational roles in Bromley but wanted to remain anonymous, spoke of the devastating effect of her stress-induced breakdown.

She said: "I was considered a very capable individual. Just weeks before I had been told that I was a top marks teacher. Then I went splat. It was not with a bang but a whimper. One morning I went in and I just had to leave. I couldn't wash up my own coffee mug. Weeks later I couldn't get out of my own house, it turned me agoraphobic. It was shocking. I just felt so tired.

"I had the death of my mother and the breakdown of my 20-year relationship. Everybody will have their story. Stress is a lonely business because it happens between your ears. I remember I spent two hours trying to get out the bedroom. It was so riotous to find myself in that position. I didn't know why I felt like that."

Asked if she felt supported by the teaching profession, she said: "There is no time for people to feel sympathy for you because your workload has been passed on to them. I felt desperately guilty about leaving my kids. I never even saw a psychiatrist. In the end, I quit my job voluntarily because I couldn't handle the pressure of trying to get better quickly."

A spokesperson for Bromley council said: "The staff sickness information requested by Bromley Times relates to a two and a half year period, rather than a single calendar or financial year, and the figure for stress related illness represents just 8% of sickness over this extended time period.

"Overall sickness levels have been coming down steadily in the last few financial years to a figure of 8.4 days on average in 2008/09 and, due to ongoing strong support for managers and staff, we expect to see this downward trend continue.

"The council has put in place strong support to help managers and staff manage/reduce sickness absences including stress-related absences through monthly case conferences chaired by the Head of HR, regular review of absence management and stress policies and procedures, tighter monitoring of sickness, training for managers on handling sickness issues, healthy living events for staff to help them achieve a good work-life balance."

National Stress Awareness Day is on November, for more information see or www.solutions4stress.co.uk or www.isma.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-day.

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