Stress and depression main cause of staff absence at Harrogate council

Harrogate Borough Council.
Harrogate Borough Council.

Stress and depression were the leading cause of staff absence at Harrogate Borough Council at the end of 2018, new figures have shown.

A report presented to the council's overview and scrutiny committee showed that stress and depression made up 23 per cent of absences from October to December 2018, followed by musculo-skeletal reasons (17 per cent) and stomach issues (15 per cent).

It's the first time that mental health issues have been the main cause of sick leave at the council since the method of reporting was changed from a yearly forecast to one based on actual monthly absences.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Pat Marsh asked the committee whether there was any correlation between heightened levels of mental health leave and job cuts.

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“The issue for me is the days lost to sickness, and the majority of that use to be musculo-skeletal - in other words bad backs - but now it’s stress, and I’m wondering why?" she said.

"Is that due to staff being under more pressure because there’s less staff so they’re expected to do one and a half jobs?"

"We need to get to the bottom of this because this will continually happen if we don’t address it now.”

The council's business intelligence and performance manager, Rachel Glynn, said there were a range of services council staff could use to help manage stress both inside and outside of council.

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“Some of those figures are not just related to work related stress, they're related to stress at home as well," Ms Glynn said.

"There’s an awful lot of work being carried out by HR and employee relations and we are actively managing stress absence."

The report stated that the average amount of sick leave taken by staff at the end of quarter three was 2.40 days, up from 2.09 in the quarter before, although the increase is common in the winter months.

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Sickness levels were highest in parks and environmental services (although levels had decreased in comparison to the previous quarter) and the lowest in legal and governance.

The highest increase in sickness (1.02 days on average) was within housing and property.

The first time the new reporting method was used was in the first quarter of the 2018/19 fiscal year, when the highest proportion of days lost to sickness absence was due to musculo-skeletal reasons, followed by stress and depression.

In the second quarter, short-term sickness due to stomach bugs was the leading cause of absence, while musculo-skeletal reasons and stress and depression remained as "high causes" that quarter.