A proactive approach to managing sickness absence has helped Brent Council save an estimated £1.5m over the past three years.
The 3,500 staff took an average of 12 days sick leave in 2003, costing the local authority at least £5m. This was reduced to 11 days in 2004, 10 days in 2005, and is expected to fall to nine days when the figures are published in April.
The figure will put Brent ahead of the local government average among London councils of 10.6 days and the UK-wide average of 11.7 days. And it is well ahead of some of the worst performers, such as Bradford, where council staff took an average of 13 days in 2004-05, equating to more than 700 years off (Personnel Today, 10 January).
Brent’s employee relations manager, Pat Keating, said the reduction was down to a mixture of good people management policies and a consistent approach to sickness across the organisation.
“Previously, we didn’t have a council-wide approach to dealing with the issue. Different departments used to deal with [sickness] in different ways,” she said.
“Our policy wasn’t a very good one as sickness wasn’t high on the agenda and managers needed a lot of guidance on what to do.”
Keating said the turning point was in 2003, when the corporate management team had to accept that sickness was a “major problem”.
The council’s approach now balances support and discipline for employees. It has introduced new IT monitoring systems, extra training, increased HR support and contracted out its occupational health service. Managers are encouraged to tackle long-term absence.
Keating said the aim was to reduce sickness levels by one day a year until they compared favourably with the CBI’s 6.4 days average for the private sector.