Most Renfrewshire Council staff absences have been attributed to psychological issues

Fears have been raised about the mental health of Renfrewshire Council staff after fresh statistics showed most absences during the back end of last year were down to psychological reasons.

Between July and December, more than a quarter of sicknesses were linked to staff struggling with the likes of stress, anxiety, and workload.

The alarming figures were included in papers presented to the joint negotiating committee for teaching staff, but the data covered employees across all departments.

In the three months to September, psychological was the main reason for absence in 28.7 per cent of cases.

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Between October and December, 25.7 per cent of sicknesses were mental health-related.

Mark Ferguson, chairman of Unison Scotland’s local government committee and branch secretary for Renfrewshire, said the pandemic had put staff under a lot of pressure and thinks these figures may just be the tip of the iceberg.

He said: “I’m not surprised by these figures. It’s to be expected.

“The pandemic has put a lot of strain on staff, especially as many work with vulnerable and elderly people.

“The conditions that staff have had to work under have been unprecedented with many having to work from home and deal with family pressures at the same time as having to work and lots have been isolated.

“In a lot of cases we don’t know what employee’s circumstances have been and there’s been a lot of staff who were used to having colleagues around them and that was taken away quite sharply.

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“I think the council knows, and we work closely with them on this, that there’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of support will need to be given.

“I do think these figures may just be scratching the surface.”

Across the six months, employees made more than 500 appointments with the council’s Time for Talking counseling service.

A third of those appointments were linked to work-related issues while almost a fifth were arranged because of personal reasons related to stress, panic, anxiety, depression or self-worth.

Twenty-one per cent of absences between July and September were attributed to musculoskeletal and joint disorders while they accounted for 18 per cent of sicknesses between October and December.

Respiratory issues were cited as the reason behind 21 per cent of absences between July and September and almost 25 per cent between October and December.

Staff members can access help for more complex psychological problems through the council’s occupational health service (OHS), which also provides physiotherapy for employees with musculoskeletal and joint conditions.

Between July and December, almost 1,500 appointments were arranged through the OHS, which includes management and well-being referrals.

Papers state stress risk assessments are undertaken to support employees who have identified stress as having an impact on their well-being. An action plan is then agreed upon and undertaken with specialist support from human resources.

A council spokesman said: “The health and well-being of our staff is our highest priority. Stress is the second most commonly reported cause of occupational ill-health in the UK and is recognized as a major health issue for employees in all sectors.

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“While the vast majority of these absences are non-work related and can include issues such as anxiety, depression, loss and bereavement, we recognize the stress that dealing with the pandemic has caused for everyone over the last two years.

“We work hard to provide a healthy working environment that improves the quality of working lives for all our staff and encourage staff to talk to us about any pressures they may face, with a range of support services in place, including counseling and mindfulness courses, while many of our staff have completed Scottish Mental Health First Aider courses.

“Regular meetings between employees and managers, together with our occupational health team, support staff to return to the workplace, with a range of measures in place.

“The council has held the Healthy Working Lives Gold Award since 2008 in recognition of our long-term commitment to improving workplace health and well-being and we continually review our Healthy Working Lives program to ensure we are meeting the needs of our workforce.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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