MID and East Antrim Borough Council's average absenteeism rate for 2021/22 was 15.21 days, according to the latest report.
Whilst almost 8 per cent of the total council sickness absence during 2021/22 was attributed to Covid-19 the report states that mental health related absence “continues to be the main reason”.
In fact it accounts for 41.27 per cent of all absence attributed to the stress, depression and fatigue category.
Elected members were updated on council's absence management from the period April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022 during last week's Policy and Resources Committee meeting.
A report presented to the committee states: “Absence levels in council have been amongst the highest across all councils in Northern Ireland. Council's average absenteeism rate for the period 2017/18 was 17.08 days, one of the highest of local government bodies in Northern Ireland during this time frame.
“Council agreed to a number of interventions in relation to absenteeism, which resulted in a decrease to 14.05 day's absence per full time equivalent (FTE) in 2018/19.
“A further significant reduction was recorded for 2019/20 with 10.64 average days lost per FTE.
“In 2020/21, an unusual year, beset by many societal changes due to the Covid 19 pandemic the absence figure reduced to an unprecedented 5.28 days lost per FTE.”
The report adds: “Mental health related absence continues to be the main reason for absence, with 41.27 per cent of all absence attributed to the stress, depression and fatigue category.
“Upon further examination of this absence reason category, work and personal related reasons contribute relatively evenly.
“There are ongoing confidential human resources matters that members will be aware of, which are affecting absence in this category.
“Council has been working hard to put in place a positive mental health and well-being action plan to support staff.”
The report adds that a total of 28 staff had “absences during the year lasting for 100 days or more”.
It states: “During the first six months of the year council was very close to meeting the target. This was in part due to low levels of absence in April and May 2021.
“Absence then increased steadily month on month from June until October and whilst remaining at a high level and above target, the lost days per FTE reduced from November 2021 until March 2022. The figures include all absence, including Covid related (but not including self-isolation if the employee would otherwise be fit to work).
“A high percentage of staff, 77.08% had no absence during 2022. This clearly demonstrates that a comparatively small number of staff have taken sickness absence leave during the year and those who have, in many cases the duration of absence has been lengthy. A total of 28 staff had absence during the year lasting for 100 days or more.”
The report states that a number of key actions have been undertaken by council to continue on an ongoing bases in order “to maintain positive attendance levels”.
They include the setting up of Staff Chatty Cafe's in three key locations in Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus to recognise Mental Health Week and this year's theme of loneliness and the introduction of a new online hub for staff “Stay Well” which contains up-to-date resources for health and well-being and is managed by external charities and mental health organisations.
Staff also continue to avail of the Employee Health Cash Plan which provides financial assistance towards physiotherapy, podiatry and optometry services as well as diagnostic tests and scanning and a confidential telephone counselling service.
The report concludes: “There will be a financial commitment based on the allocation of resources to lead and deliver reduction in absenteeism and in the roll out of further training to managers and staff in particularly around mental health.
“It is anticipated that this will be offset by added value derived from lower absenteeism rates moving into the longer term.
“Depending on the job role, particularly if it is a front line role, immediate, temporary replacement cover maybe required. This will result in additional salary expenditure.
“Council aims to support staff that experience ill health and to assist them to maintain a good attendance at work. Staff absences, both casual and long term can place remaining staff under additional work pressures.”