Concerns have been raised about the level of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council staff currently off sick with stress- and depression-related conditions, although absences overall have fallen significantly compared to the previous year.
During a recent meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee, it emerged conditions such as these accounted for almost half of all sickness absence in the 2020/2021 year, which one member described as “alarming”.
Director of Corporate Services & Governance, Celine McCarten, provided an annual report on staff sickness absence figures, which excluded Covid-19 issues, as previously agreed.
She stated while these represented “the lowest absence for quite a number of years, notwithstanding that, there are some definite concerns and issues around the most significant contributor, which is stress, depression, mental health and fatigue syndrome”.
This equated to 47 per cent of overall staff sickness absence, with blood pressure and circulation issues accounting for 6 per cent.
The latest figures show Council time lost due to employee sickness was 3.71 per cent, which is down from 5.60 per cent in the 2019/2020 year.
Average days lost due to sickness absence lost per employee was just under 10, compared to almost 14 the previous year.
In addition, the figure for employees with no absence was 57.76 per cent, up from 48 per cent in 2019/2020.
The Council’s total number of employees during 2020/21 was 838, compared to 942 the previous year.
Members heard the reasons for sickness absence are reviewed and reported on regularly to both the Senior Management Team and trade union representatives at the Local Consultation and Negotiation Forum.
Comparison with other councils indicated an apparent trend in mental health sickness absence, reflected in the impact linked to the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of people.
Sinn Fein’s Councillor Anthony Feely remarked: “Stress, mental health and depression absences are alarming. The figure of 47 per cent is very high.”
As the Council is committed to the Equality Commission Mental Health Charter, Ms. McCarten advised a wide range of services to support the mental health and wellbeing of all employees are in place.
This includes the 24/7 Helpline, access to one-to-one counselling, wellbeing risk assessments, resilience workshops, manager and employee training, and signposting to other agencies.
Management of sickness absence within the Council continues to be supported by a range of measures, including regular reporting on absence levels to line managers and Senior Management Team, and ongoing implementation of the Health and Wellbeing Risk Assessment Policy to support the management of stress at work.
Further consideration will be given to any additional measures and support for the management of good mental health within the workforce.