Walsall Council will look to the private sector for guidance after the number of sick days taken by employees rises 13,000 on last year, despite the fact they have fewer staff on payroll.
The Express & Star revealed that staff at the authority took 169,493 days off between them (that’s 464 years!) in 2008/9, with a worryingly high average of 12.9 days per employee.
Surely this means that Walsall Council is a contender for one of the sickliest workplaces in the country? Sallow, phantom-like creatures must stalk the hallways, struggling to make it from one day to the next, roused only by the news of the latest proposed taxpayer-funded junket, or for the more lowly ranks, the thought of complimentary refreshments in the staff room.
Or perhaps, as one former civil servant suggested to the WMTPA this week, these people think they’re simply owed their sick days as though they were a sort of surplus annual leave? After all, isn’t it a complete waste to let a few paid days leave pass you by just because you didn’t happen to catch a bug or break your leg?
Unfortunately, the lax attitude taken with these people has, like with our MPs and their expenses, only nurtured a culture of ‘take what you can get away with’ and consequently councils like Walsall are losing thousands of days of productive work from their employees.
And, of course, this is costing us all dear…
Unnecessary sick days aren’t unique to the public sector, but they certainly seem to be more prolific, with private companies notoriously less tolerant of those who yo-yo in an out of unverified illnesses. Just from personal experience, in one of my last positions with a private company I knew of two employees who were dismissed after the management viewed them as using sickness as an excuse for laziness and days-off, and I’m confident that in three years of work I haven’t amassed as many as 13 days off sick.
This doesn’t mean that the complaints of Walsall Council staff are all fraudulent of course, but the council itself has admitted that there are good reasons to question this unprecedented level of absence.
Some might emphasise the need to create a cosier environment for staff in order to coax the reluctant back into work on a more regular basis, citing stress and hostility as reasons people might shy away. But is it really accurate to assume that those taking needless sick days are in some way stressed or have deep-seated problems with their place of work?
Surely most are just chancers, taking a day here and there where they feel they deserve a morning in watching Jeremy Kyle? In which case, cosier work environments won’t work half as well as greater consequences for repeated offenders. If staff had to produce a doctor’s certificate more often, there’s little doubt we’d see a dramatic fall in these days of absence.
This trend is a huge drain on public resources and unless authorities and public bodies can find a way to tighten up the system it threatens to go on being so. After all, fewer days sickness could even allow councils to cut back on staff and be a much needed move towards the sort of smaller, more efficient and more streamlined local government structure that would benefit us all.