Sickness ‘rockets’ at Northampton Borough Council

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Bad management of sickness at Northampton Borough Council could be leading to high levels of absence, a senior councillor has claimed.

Councillor Alan Bottwood (Con, Upton), the cabinet member for finance, said the council was attempting to reduce the average number of sick days per Guildhall employee from 12 per year to nearer the other Northamptonshire councils’ average of seven.

He said the council was tackling how managers could discover the real issues behind some bouts of sickness.

Councillor Bottwood, a former facilities manager at Travis Perkins for more than a decade, said: “Compared to industry it is worse and part of that is bad management.

“I don’t think absence at the borough is rife, what it needs is better management.

“There needs to be better back-to-work interviews and we are monitoring absence more closely now. We are getting better at finding out why people are absent.

“Sometimes it’s because people feel let down by their workplace and are not happy to come into work.

“You’ve got to get them to admit to that, which is difficult. There are a lot of other reasons too such as problems at home or people not feeling part of the office for whatever reason,” he added.

“It’s all about managing the situation, but I don’t think for years that has happened in local government.”

Councillor Bottwood said the local authority was performing well on short-term absences, but had a problem with a relatively small number of long-term absentees, which made the overall figures look worse.

Although he refused to name the worst departments, he did say they were ones with working conditions that made genuine illness more likely.

He said: “One of the problems is both the areas that are suffering this problem are customer-facing departments.

“They visit people in their homes and the more people you see the more likely you are to pick something up.

“You probably get a lot more aggro off people than back office staff too, which adds to things like headaches, migraines and stress.”

The council said it would now provide one-to-one help for people to stay in work or return to work as soon as possible.

Wellness Recovery Action Plans will also enable employees to return to work after a spell of long-term sickness due to mental health or muscular problems.