Long-term sick days on the rise at West Lothian Council

More than 1,100 West Lothian Council employees were off sick long-term last year – new figures show.

Stress-related absence remains an issue at West Lothian Council, accounting for 32 per cent of staff absences.

And the number of days lost to sick leave has climbed throughout the council despite the introduction of new policies to boost attendance.

Stress is one of the major factors, accounting for more than 30 per cent of absence, the council’s Partnership and Resources (PDSP) heard.

Of the days lost due to sickness absence from April 1 to December 31 last year, a significant proportion of those absences are attributable to long term absence which is defined in the policy as a period of continuous absence “in excess of four weeks,” according to a report by the council’s Human Resources department.

Of the total number of 2,868 days lost in CEO, Finance and Property Services, 1,860 (64.85 per cent) of those days were due to long-term absence by 29. Of the total number of 31,385 days lost in Education Services, 21,009 (66.94 per cent)  were due to long-term absence by 364.

Of the total number of 14,316 days lost in Housing, Customer and Building Services, 11,000 (76.84 per cent) were due to long-term absence  by 159.  Of the total number of 26,356 days lost in Operational Services, 20,695 (78.52 per cent) were due to long-term absence and were accounted for by 325.   Of the total number of 22,381 days lost in Social Policy, 17,310 (77.34 per cent) were due to long-term absence by 231.  

The report added: “The average percentage  days lost due to long-term absence across the five services was 73.86 per cent. The average percentage of sick days lost due to long-term absence across the council as a whole was 73.63 per cent. The average length of long-term absence during the period was 64 days, with the longest absence lasting 261 days.”

The report added: “Given that ‘mental and behavioural’ absences account for 32.41 per cent of all absences, increased promotion of EAP services and other mental health supportive measures will be prioritised.”

Additional staff have been recruited to work on stress action packages for those off with long term stress.

Julie Whitelaw, head of corporate services said this was part of a range of improved services and additional measures to help employees- including the development of a mental health first-aider programme. 

A spokesperson for the council added: “Our figures show that around four per cent of all working days available across the council last year were lost to long-term sickness absence, which covers a wide range of reasons.

“We have reduced absences related to musculoskeletal, respiratory, gastrointestinal and other areas but stress related absence remains an issue. We know that a significant proportion of the stress related absences are not directly related to work, and are caused by pressures out with the work place.

“In society, generally, stress is a widespread issue. Some recent studies have found that 85 per cent of adults may regularly experience some form of stress so there is going to be an impact on large employers, including the council, which is West Lothian’s largest employer.

“We already have a large number of support measures in place for staff including an Employee Assistance Programme which is available 24 hours a day, providing instant access for employees to confidential, professional advice on a range of work-related and personal issues such as stress, anxiety, addiction, bullying and harassment, bereavement and ill health.

However stress is an issue we take very seriously and we are putting in place more robust mechanisms to look at how further support can be provided.”