Shetland Islands Council has saved over £300,000 on its sick leave bill following a 10 per cent improvement in work attendance in the 12 months till July.
The improvement reflects changes made to boost attendance at work and has not involved hounding people off sick leave, the audit and standards committee heard last week. Instead, improvements to absence rates were attributed to re-organisation undertaken last September.
The committee heard that short-term sickness absence followed a “very, very cyclical pattern”, but had been subject to a marked improvement since the previous year, with only January bucking the trend that has seen up to a 25 per cent reduction in sick days in April, May and June, compared with 2011/12.
January’s increase in absenteeism was attributed to the norovirus outbreak, which hit care staff in particular. The committee also considered the health board policy of encouraging staff who had been in contact with infected patients to take a 48-hour break, which was not recorded as sickness.
Committee chairman Allison Duncan said that it was “a good news story” and that he was “very glad to see the result”. He added: “I do not want to see any sickness in the SIC or any other council.”
The committee heard that sick leave had been costing the council £3 million per year. Absence rates followed the same pattern every year and were best in summer, before climbing throughout the winter and peaking in February.
Performance and improvement advisor Jim MacLeod, who presented a report on sickness levels to the committee, said that promoting attendance at work had been a priority for managers and that the council “now had a very good” attendance policy.
“This is not about punishing sickness but promoting attendance,” he added. “Those people unable to attend work will not be affected by the new policy and procedure.”
However it was proving more difficult to make inroads into rates of long-term sickness.
Executive manager of performance and improvement John Smith said that there were in “the low teens” of long-term sick council employees and that was at “the limit of statistical expectation” from a 4,000-strong workforce.
Councillor Jonathan Wills hailed the figures as “a great improvement” and said that the annual cost of sickness amounted to what the council was looking to save on its educational budget.
The committee resolved that further reports on sickness should in future go before the executive committee, audit and standards having done its job on the issue.