Stress costs county millions

MORE than one-in-20 staff at Suffolk County Council took time off for stress, anxiety or depression in the last 14 months, shock new figures reveal.

The council paid out nearly �2million in sick pay to staff suffering from the conditions – and lost nearly 17,000 working days.

Eight members of staff left the authority altogether after suffering from stress, anxiety or depression – and the county council paid out more than �54,000 in compensation to staff who left after suffering from such conditions.

The figures were disclosed after the East Anglian Daily Times submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for information about the amount of time and money lost because of stress-related conditions.

They show that 1,478 employees took absence from the county council because of stress, anxiety and depression between January 1, 2009 and March 15, 2010.

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That figure includes staff in schools – and equates to just under 5.5% of the council’s 27,000-strong workforce.

The total number of days lost was 16,886 and the total cost in sick pay was �1,964,911.64.

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This figure only includes basic pay – not overtime – and the county was only able to calculate it on the basis that employees worked the same number of hours every day.

A spokeswoman for Unison said the figures were worrying because they showed the growing problem of stress levels at the county council.

She said: “As well as the personal cost and impact on the staff concerned, stress in the workplace impacts on their colleagues, services and local taxpayers.

“These are very difficult times at the moment and staff are facing many uncertainties in the workplace – from the threat of job and pay cuts to freezes to their increments and increased workloads.

“These figures are a barometer of general wellbeing and stress within the county council.

“These findings, especially the figures paid out in compensation by the county council, paint a picture of staff being stretched to the limit at an authority falling short in its role of supporting its workforce to prevent this happening.”

A spokeswoman for the county council said the authority had recently been judged “The best county council in Britain to work for” in the Sunday Times’ Best Companies Survey.

She added: “We are committed to maintaining the health and well-being of all employees and we provide support to staff to ensure a healthy work/life balance is maintained.

“We take many measures to reduce and manage stress including offering flexible working, a confidential counselling service, advice and guidance on how to reduce stress, as well as a raft of healthy-living programmes.

“In supporting staff, we do not distinguish between work-related and other types of stress, depression, or anxiety – for example those which may be of a personal nature.”

She said the figures in the Freedom of Information request did not distinguish between work-related and personal stress.

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