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Monmouthshire Council asked if it’s ‘soft touch’ on sickness

Monmouthshire County Council

A COUNCIL with more than 4,000 staff and “above average” sickness rates has been asked to consider if it is a “soft touch”. 

As part of an effort to support staff free counselling and initiatives to provide support from colleagues who aren’t managers are available to staff at Monmouthshire council. 

However it has reported it has a “marginally above industry average” sickness rate though that is said to be “broadly unchanged in recent years”. 

Martin Veale, an independently appointed member of the council’s governance and audit committee, asked Matthew Gatehouse the chief officer for people if it was too lax on sick days. 

He asked: “On sickness are we sure we are not a soft touch?” 

Mr Gatehouse, who has been responsible for developing a new people strategy setting out how the council supports and attracts staff, replied: “This is where human resources team and managers have to work and all have practices in place.” 

He said anyone returning to work after a sickness absence should have a recorded return to work interview with their manager. 

Mr Gatehouse said: “I’ve not seen any evidence to suggest we are a soft touch but we have to keep that under review.” 

The people strategy has noted that 25 per cent of absences were down to mental health in 2019/20 compared to 24 per cent in 2022/23.

The council now records work related stress as a distinct absence category and around a third of stress absences were work related. 

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It also said the council needs to recognise wider economic pressures are likely to be affecting many people outside of work. 

Councillor Sara Burch said while the strategy has recognised the council has above average sickness “there doesn’t seem to be an actual plan to deal with that”. 

Mr Gatehouse said it was a “fair point” but said iniatives such as counselling are in place and also acknowledged the council doesn’t “promote the benefits as well as we could” and said that was especially true related to staff who work outside or who aren’t in desk jobs. 

He said the support the council offers helps reduce absences in the first instance and helps people to return to work more quickly. 

The council is set to survey staff in March next year and put in place a staff benefits page by that September. It will measure its success against sickness absence, which although described as “above industry average” in the people plan it hasn’t published the current rate.

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