Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s staff absenteeism rate increased in the 2021/22 financial year to a five year high, figures produced in the local authority’s annual self-assessment report show.
The report, produced in September, was presented to members of council’s performance and audit committee on Tuesday, September 27.
Figures provided to members of the committee show the staff absence rate has increased considerably in comparison with the rate recorded in 2020/21.
The absence rate indicates the percentage of work time – expressed as workdays – the average employee is absent for unavoidable reasons during a period.
The data shows, on average in the 2021/22 financial year, there were 20.51 work days lost to staff absence.
However, the report notes at the time of publication the data for the other ten councils is unavailable as it is not yet verified and council’s own data remains unverified by the Northern Ireland Audit Office
In 2020/21 there were 15.67 work days lost to staff absence while in 2019/20 and 2018/19, 18.28 and 16.73 work days were lost on average respectively.
With data for 2017/18 showing the total number of days lost to staff absence was 16.06, this means the 2021/22 financial year saw the most number of days lost to staff absence in the past five financial years.
In 2021/22 council lost 15.32 work days to long term absenteeism and 5.19 days to short terms absenteeism. In 2020/21 it lost 13.11 days to long-term absenteeism and 2.56 days to short term absenteeism.
A performance objective for the year had sought to see the average number of days’ sickness absence lost per employee reach 16 days or less with a 1.4 per cent short-term absence rate and a five per cent or lower long-term absence rate.
The report notes that figures for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon show an increase in days lost for both long-term and short-term absenteeism and states: “The percentage of working days lost has increased from 7.12 per cent in 2020/21 to 9.32 per cent in 2021/22.”
Explaining the rise in the absence rate, the report states the Covid-19 pandemic has been the main contributing factor and notes an increase of 257 per cent in the number of incidents of absence classified as “chest and respiratory absence”.
“This [chest and respiratory absence] has now overtaken stress and musculo-skeletal which has always been historically our two main reasons for absence,” read the report.
It also states the local authority’s human resources and organisational development department is delivering a number of “bespoke actions to address the increasing trend of sickness in our staff”.
This has resulted in all managers training in the managing of attendance policy and procedure and closely monitoring attendance and return to work interviews conducted with employees to “encourage them to attend work regularly”.
A staff health and well being action plan has been developed and is currently being implemented while council “continues to place an emphasis on the mental health and well-being of staff with the roll out of mental health first aid training”.
Despite these initiatives there is an acceptance that the staff absence trends “still remain on the higher trajectory” and council is carrying forward its performance improvement objective to reduce the average number of days’ sickness absence lost per employee to the 2022/23 financial year.
“The lead officer will remain in place and increase support to the line managers and attend management meetings, particularly front line areas to ensure absence continues to be a priority.”