STRESS, depression and fatigue are among the top reasons for absence among council workers in Caerphilly this year – with a combined 42,000 working days lost since April.
Opposition councillors have sounded the alarm over “worrying” and “huge” levels of staff sickness, with one suggesting the move towards more working from home could be taking a toll on employees’ mental health.
The equivalent of a further 88,000 working days were lost to absence in the last financial year, with stress and depression again listed as the most common reason for staff taking time off.
Lindsay Whittle, the leader of the Plaid Cymru group in the council, said he believed “lots of staff are stressed and suffering from mental ill health issues due to the isolation of working from home”.
“Any staff who are single with no caring issues, I believe, miss the camaraderie of colleagues,” he added.
A permanent move towards more agile working, or working from home, is one of the key policies in the council’s new strategy for modernising services, in light of anticipated budget savings in the next couple of years.
The council previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service agile working had allowed staff to work more efficiently and have a better work-life balance, as well as helping the council meet environmental ambitions.
But Cllr Whittle said he felt the move could come at a cost for some workers.
Commenting on the absence figures, which were obtained by Plaid Cymru via a Freedom of Information Act request, he said: “The encouragement of working from home means there is no sense of a team, no sense of pride or sharing good practice.
“Isolation will lead to more mental health issues and possible claims from staff.
“I do not hold with the argument that people can come back to the office if they wish. This administration has encouraged people to stay away.”
Cllr Whittle’s Plaid colleague Gary Enright, a former trade union official at the council, said it was “worrying” to see “a huge number of days lost, and clearly high levels of absence due to stress and other related illness”.
He also raised concerns that the council was “not able to supply the financial cost of sickness to the authority, because it does not hold the data or to provide the information in the format requested”.
Cllr Enright said such information should “be readily available at a touch of a button if you are managing your workforce effectively, which I do not feel Caerphilly Council currently is”.
Greg Ead, another Plaid councillor, said the absence figures were “huge given the authority has around 8,000 staff”.
“The figures show that 5,388 staff took absence due to sickness in 2022-23 and 3,033 in the first six months of 2023-24,” he added.
Cllr Ead suggested the local authority should provide councillors with “timely” updates on staff absence and what was being done to reduce sickness levels in the workforce.
Other common reasons for staff absence included Covid-19, colds and flu, various injuries and illnesses, and “work-related stress”.
A council spokesman said: “The health and wellbeing of the workforce is paramount and there are a range of policies and mechanisms in place to support staff whenever needed.
“A new wellbeing provider has recently been appointed and an Employee Wellbeing Strategy has also been endorsed to support all our employees who are at the heart of Team Caerphilly.”
The spokesperson said councillors have access to sickness absence data, and added: “We are encouraged that our sickness levels are reducing and we will continue to ensure that our workforce is fully supported and that managers have appropriate policies and procedures in place to effectively support the health and wellbeing of our staff.”