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Council sickness at four-year low after managers threatened with pay freeze

Council sickness at four-year low after managers threatened with pay freeze

🕔09.Oct 2013

A threat to block pay rises for senior managers in charge of departments with sky-high sickness rates may have had a significant downward impact on Birmingham City Council’s absenteeism record.

The number of non-schools staff off ill is at a four-year low following a concerted crackdown which included imposing financial penalties on top bosses who failed to meet sickness reduction targets.

Deputy council leader Ian Ward will tell a scrutiny committee next week that the average number of sick days a year per employee is now just over 10 – equivalent to two weeks.

A year ago the figure was nudging 14 days, a trend blamed on demoralised staff facing massive public spending cuts and tougher working conditions.

The council’s target is 9.25 days – a figure that has rarely been reached in the past.

A decade ago, however, the average sickness figure was almost 20 days per employee.

Cllr Ward’s no nonsense approach has included threatening to stop annual pay rises for managers running departments with the worst absenteeism records.

He has also managed to cut by half the number of employees off work on long term sick for more than six months.

The financial rewards to be gained by reducing staff sickness are huge. Council leaders estimate the absenteeism bill to be about £35 million a year, largely the result of hiring replacement agency workers.

In a written report to the scrutiny committee, Cllr Ward said: “I continue to actively pursue improvements in absence rates and have put in place monthly monitoring processes, including holding responsible strategic directors to account for significant underperformances”

Improvements claimed by Cllr Ward include:

  • • Better quality of the absence data. Managers are using computer software to monitor absenteeism on a daily basis.
  • • A more “business focused and proactive approach” from Occupational Health Service advisers who are participating in attendance panels to give on the spot advice and speed up processes.
  • • Tighter monitoring and management of all absence over 20 days, including early intervention by managers to ensure that these absences do not drift into long-term cases.
  • • Senior officers are securing “appropriate and timely management action” through regular absence panels in each directorate. These panels ensure that managers take personal ownership of managing absence in their teams and that any non-compliance is reported and remedial action taken.
  • • All JNC officers have individual sickness targets within the PDR process. The outcome of PDR objectives impact pay progression and pay increases will be affected where targets are not met.

The gap between public and private sector sickness levels has been closing in recent years.

Councils average about nine days per employee a year, while private sector firms average about seven days.

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