Sick days on the rise again in SIC

Council workers in Shetland take so many sick days it is costing the public purse around £3 million a year in lost hours. The problem got worse again last year when employees took the equivalent of 13 sick days each, up from 12.2 days in the previous two years.

The poor attendance record is of increasing concern to councillors faced with making swingeing cuts to public spending. Billy Fox believed the sickness rate was about three times the national average. If money could be saved by tackling the problem it could be put towards frontline services, he told the audit and standards committee today.

Theo Smith found the absence rate “rather disturbing” and suggested it was because employees were allowed to sign themselves off for up to seven days without requiring a doctor’s line.
Michael Stout said, to be blunt about it, the council had a morale problem.

The council’s performance and improvement adviser Jim McLeod said new policies and procedures were to be brought before councillors in two months as part of the ongoing attempt to clamp down on sickies. He said the group dealing with the issue was confident there would be a substantial improvement in this financial year.

Teachers had a better sickness record than other local authority employees, largely because they work fewer days in the year due to the long school holidays. They lost on average 6.7 days a year to illness, which was up on the previous year’s rate of 6.2 days.

Meanwhile the cost of collecting rubbish in Shetland has rocketed from £77.97 per household to £106.51 although the cost of disposing of it fell from £54.95 to £47.90.

Mr Fox’s concern about the statistic was shared by infrastructure services director Phil Crossland who said the cost of refuse collection was being investigated and would need to come down by 30-40 per cent.

The council’s performance indicators also show that fewer planning applications were being dealt with within a two-month period last year – down to 60.4 per cent of applications from a high of 80.6 per cent two years previously.

The local authority also became worse at paying businesses and others who supply it with goods, settling bills slower than during the previous three years with just 81.9 per cent of invoices paid within 30 days.

On the positive side, the council has been quicker in re-letting empty houses in areas where there is good demand, managing to get new tenants in within 20 days rather than the previous year’s delay of 31 days.

The cost of collecting the council tax was also cut to £12.81 per house, down from £16.21 the previous year.


Add Your Comment
  • Michael grant

    • September 27th, 2012 13:14

    Is not not about time that the cooncil stopped paying sick pay,3 million a year and we are going on about closing schools.You cudna make it up.

  • Jane Young

    • September 27th, 2012 13:51

    Absenteeism is typically caused by lack of job satisfaction and not feeling valued; as well as a culture that focuses on time / showing up, as opposed to results.

    Through better management training (leadership by inspiration, not clock-watching or traditional ‘management’) and transparent information-sharing – to help SIC workers feel more involved and part of goal-setting, as opposed to just having to turn up – people should feel more motivated; and in turn be more productive.

    Increasing productivity always reduces absenteeism, so helping people become more productive will solve the problem. Most people probably have ideas on how they could work more productively, but if they feel powerless to implement any of them – or if they assume they won’t be listened to – nothing will change.

    By looking at the departments / areas where absenteeism is lowest, there might be lessons that can be applied to the worst areas.

    Looking at how staff are given performance feedback will also help. Appraisals no longer have to be annual – there are plenty of tools available for giving feedback in real-time; and ways of rewarding staff, to encourage more of the behaviours that you want. By rewards I don’t mean financial incentives, in fact these can (surprisingly) worsen performance (e.g.

    It’s doubtful teachers have a better record due to school holidays. It’s more likely to be because they feel a sense of responsibility towards their pupils.

    ‘If money could be saved by tackling the problem it could be put towards frontline services’ – there is the answer to motivating the rest of the workforce to show up. Most jobs are task based, so feel like drudgery. Engaging people in the bigger picture of how their role impacts the community, for example, would elicit a far better response than assuming people will feel a sense of responsibility towards their SIC boss.

    Better clarity on policies is good, ‘clamping down’ is bad. The message is that workers can’t be trusted to do the right thing; and given half a chance will do the wrong thing. Treat folk like children and they’ll behave like children. Less sticks and more carrots will have a much better long-term affect, as the SIC will never get the most out of folk who are there for fear of punishment, vs those who are they because they genuinely care about doing a good job. Clamping down is a recipe for ‘presenteeism’ – i.e. time spent physically present but not really doing your job.

  • Harry Dent

    • September 27th, 2012 16:14

    Much of what Jane Young says is dead right, in my opinion, but the solutions she advocates are unlikely to be instituted whilst we have governments in London and Edinburgh who insist on viewing the state as a business, with profit and loss being the only things that matter.

    Put another way Cameron and Salmond know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    Another way of looking at what Ms Young is describing is to identify it as stress. Now plenty of people who have never really suffered stress will be quick to attack the notion but the plain fact is that workplace stress is a killer, and it is on the rise.

    If SIC genuinely cares about its staff and the quality of service those staff are allowed to deliver, they will take on board what Ms Young says, investigate it, and work closely with health professionals & the trade unions to provide a happier, healthier and therefore more productive workplace environment.

  • Andrew Gibson

    • September 27th, 2012 16:32

    What a fantastic series of comments by Jane Young, the best I’ve read on these pages; ever.

    Then followed by a very insightful comment by Harry Dent regarding stress in the workplace, something that larger organisations such as Councils and NHS bodies treat as a tick box exercise for their records, rather than a production tool for it’s most valuable asset – it’s workforce.

    There are many examples of companies that have improved in the area of absenteeism throughout the country, perhaps lessons can be learnt by approaching some of them and seeking advice.

  • Tommy Robertson

    • September 27th, 2012 17:01

    Of course the council has a morale problem when they release information in this manner to the press!

    We all, I am sure, know many hard working “front line” SIC staff who go the extra mile and rarely have a day off, working through injury and illness, despite having their wages severely cut over the past year or so.

    Now, as usual, they are all being “tarred with the same stick”.

    If it wasn’t for the honest, hard working nature of their staff the council would be in far worse a state than many councillors or managers realise.

  • robert sandison

    • September 27th, 2012 17:29

    What is conveniently not mentioned is that if you are off sick over a certain time the SIC takes employees annual leave off them.I bet thats not been factored into these figures

  • Ali Inkster

    • September 28th, 2012 7:42

    What you conveniently forgot to mention Robert is that only happens when said “sick” employee can not provide a sick line.

  • Jane Young

    • September 28th, 2012 12:37

    I think viewing the state as a business is fine in many ways, depending on the type of business. At the end of the day, there’s income and expenditure that should be managed rigorously – something the SIC hasn’t been famous for. The schools closure issue is an example of a knee-jerk, short-termist response to the consequences of lack of rigour; when making operations leaner, rather than closing schools, is clearly in the best interests of the community. Lean isn’t about headcount, it’s about efficiency and output. The headcount of the SIC is capable of achieving incredible things – if the processes, systems and culture were in place to make that possible. Optimising processes (the way work gets done), systems (technology) and culture issues (people stuff) would make measures like school closures seem absurd.

    Most of the world’s most successful, innovative businesses with the greatest longevity, invest hugely in ensuring they cultivate a happy, productive workforce that isn’t suffering from negative stress. Happiness and profit are not at odds with one-another – quite the opposite. The more engaged and healthy (mentally and physically) employees are, the better the financial performance.

    Rather than this press release reflecting badly on SIC workers, it reflects badly on the system – which is the responsibility of leadership. Absenteeism is a systemic problem; not an individual one. Too often, rules, policies and ‘sticks’ are implemented for the few, with the result of making life worse (more bureaucratic and soul destroying) for the many.

    Behaviour is an emergent property of a system, i.e. you have to look a bit deeper than ‘aren’t the staff bad taking liberties and skiving’; and instead look at the reality of how the SIC operates more widely; and how this impacts people’s sense of wellbeing and will to turn up on a Monday morning.

    A good start would be to ask employees what’s wrong with the way things work now, what’s right, and really listen hard; then commit to some tangible actions (with deadlines and follow-up to see them through).

  • Harry Dent

    • September 28th, 2012 13:42

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with you on your first point, Jane, even if some of the points that flow from it are undeniably true.

    Businesses exist to make profit; the state exists, we are told, to protect its citizens (though I would argue it exists to protect its rulers, which is why it values profit so highly).

    But the phrase “Absenteeism is a systemic problem; not an individual one,” puts the whole issue in a nutshell and I have filed it away to use the next time I negotiate with my boss over these issues.

  • Jane Young

    • September 28th, 2012 14:48

    We probably don’t disagree all that much Harry. I’m referring to businesses who don’t exist to make a profit – rather they make a profit as a by-product of serving customers in a way that’s in the best interests of the customer, guided by a vision that should be a positive thing for customers (and the world!) and a set of values. I know this might sound idealistic, but you’d be surprised how many business leaders genuinely live by this mindset. I’ll also add the disclaimer that I’m in no way advocating support of David Cameron 🙂

  • ian tinkler

    • September 28th, 2012 18:18

    How about a bit of reality. We are losing are rural high schools for the sake of £3 million. We have just lost £3 million in SIC funds because the poor demoralised staff is unable to do on honest full time job. Call me reactionary if you wish but I know just where to find the £3 million to keep our schools open. Now let’s quite the socialist crap and sort this out. No work, no pay without a Dr.’s certificate. If those workers so demoralised they cannot and will stay healthy enough to work, just resign your jobs and do the rest of us a favour, please. There are plenty who will take your place.

  • Robert Simpson

    • October 1st, 2012 16:20

    Yes, another brainwave from ian tinkler….

    This time, completely disregarding and undermining hard-fought-for employment law as “socialist crap”.

    Empty pitchers, and all that.

  • Andrew Gibson

    • October 1st, 2012 21:50

    The notion of SIC staff having to provide a fit note for every period of sickness is completely nonsensical.
    As already pointed out, not only does it negate hard fought for employment law, it would also have an even greater negative affect on the moral of the staff and allow any bugs and germs to spread like wild-fire amongst staff and anyone they come into contact with. The potential is therefore for staff sickness to increase further and for vulnerable clients of social services to require more inpatient health care to deal with the affects of these illnesses.
    It would also put a massive burden on primary health care services due to staff having to visit their GP to authorise every period of sickness even if it is just one day. This would require greater investment in primary care services and associated administration costs and given a finite health budget could only be achieved by decreasing investment and expenditure in secondary care services at a time when the need for beds increases, due to the affects described above.

  • Robbie Leask

    • October 1st, 2012 22:36

    Ian you are reactionary. We could always invest our public money in a wind farm that might help fund local services.

  • ian tinkler

    • October 2nd, 2012 9:47

    ““Hard-fought-for employment law” !!! £3million in sickness pay for a work force that is almost doubles the size of comparable local authorities, such as Orkney… Just what law are your referring to Robert Simpson. Nearly an average of 3 working weeks off for every SIC employee on the sick. This is indolent, lazy exploitation of a soft employment regime. The children of rural schools are going to suffer so these sickie scroungers can have their days off “hard-fought-for employment law” , what socialist dogma and bull… Just think who suffers due to these scroungers, fellow workmates, some of the most vulnerable in society, children and the elderly. Whole banks of relief staff maintained just to cover for the indolent non caring sickies… Just think if these poor exploited workers actually turned up for work, no need for rural school closures and a new Mareel type project paid for every 4 years. Reactionary? I maybe, but I am no sickie exploiter. No wonder the SIC finances are in such a mess. Is it not time to sort this out, weed out the Monday syndrome sufferers and POETS day specialist (P””£$ off early tomorrow is Saturday), ever tried to phone SIC late on a Friday!!!.

  • Johan Adamson

    • October 2nd, 2012 12:36

    13 sick days each does seem like a lot. There must be individuals on long term sick. I assume Sandra Laurenson will have told SIC about good absence policies at NHS and return to work interviews, regular contact with sick staff and monitoring how many days are actually caring for others who are sick, not the employee. Also about redeployment of anyone sick for a long period of time who needs to be in a more suitable job.

  • ian tinkler

    • October 2nd, 2012 14:22

    The average worker in the UK is absent from work 5.5 days a year, Why is the SIC work force sickness rates more than double this? It does not take a genius to work that one out. Poor work ethic and feeble management perhaps. Why does Orkney council do so much better with far less staff?
    Andre Gibson states “, it would also have an even greater negative affect on the moral of the staff and allow any bugs and germs to spread like wild-fire amongst staff and anyone they come into contact with.” Well now Andrew, just why do GBH medical staff manage without falling like flies at the first sign of a bug? Simply because they need to care and do care for the people they serve. What a pity some of the SIC workforce does not follow that example and work ethic…

  • Ali Inkster

    • October 2nd, 2012 14:43

    Lets not kid folks on here as to what is “hard fought for employment law” if any one is interested it is laid out here

    and it clearly states that there is no sick pay for the first 3 days.
    By sticking to this rule the council could save a fortune and weed out the friday early leavers and the monday morning hangover crowd.
    After this 3 day period then statutory sick pay of £85.85 per week is payable this would also weed out those that like to sit at home on full pay watching Jeremy Kyle while we pay their wages.
    If you are genuinely sick you have my complete sympathy, but for those pulling a fast one at everybody else’s expense, it is about time the gravy train was stopped.
    Council wages are above the norm for Shetland and the UK as a whole so why do also have to make it so easy for folks to take time off on full pay.

    P.S. I am self employed and don’t get any sick pay so if I take time off I pay for it from my own pocket, so going to work with a hangover or not going to work at all makes me consider very carefully if it is worth it before I have a dram, Its about time everyone else was forced to do the same.

  • Andrew Gibson

    • October 2nd, 2012 15:11

    Ian, it would be interesting to know how you got information regarding the the sickness of Medical staff at GBH as this is confidential information. However, as Johan has already stated, NHS Shetland has good sickness management policies, I am sure Sandra Laurenson has relayed this to the SIC and hopefully it will have an impact in due course.
    What is known from managers who spend time managing these issues is that your ‘Bull in a China Shop’ approach is incorrect, would not work and could led the SIC down many a tribunal path.
    You ask; “Why is the SIC work force sickness rate more than double the national average?” Clearly there are issues to be dealt with, but not even being aware of why they are high in the first place is not a good starting point. Therefore to present brash solutions as you have done without doing proper background research is an extremely poor management approach and would almost certainly fail as you will not have found the root cause of the problem.


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