One in 20 AVDC staff take time off for mental health problems

Parties are bidding to get councillors inside the AVDC offices
Parties are bidding to get councillors inside the AVDC offices

One out of every 20 employees at Aylesbury Vale District Council takes time off sick due to mental health problems.

Now councillors are questioning why the figure is so high and have asked officers whether anything can be done to make workers happier.

It does seem concerning, we don’t like to think our staff are stressed or suffering problems

John Chilver

“It does seem concerning. We don’t like to think our staff are stressed and suffering problems,” said Tory councillor John Chilver.

He is chair of the Finance and Services Scrutiny Committee, which considers sickness statistics from the council’s 507 staff in an annual equality duty report.

The report showed absences cost the council £409,148 last year.

The biggest reason was muscular and skeletal problems, which accounted for more than 19 per cent of sick leave.

But the second most common complaint was mental health problems, including stress. Last year 522 working days were lost for this reason.

“Absences tend to be longer term and were attributed to just over 5% of the people employed at AVDC,” states the report.

Mr Chilver said councillors have already questioned officers and been told the mental health issues stem from a number of factors.

“These include work, personal or home circumstances and also bereavement. But we would like a further breakdown and we’d like to see how our figures compare to other local authorities,” he said.

“If we find a common reason is stress caused by work then we will, of course, try to do something about it.”

Meanwhile councillors are congratulating themselves on a fall in the number of back injuries and muscle strains suffered by council refuse collectors. And they put it down to the new recycling bins.

Mr Chilver said: “There has been fewer injuries and problems since we improved our waste management system, introduced the new bins and also changed the working hours. That can only be a good thing.”

Bob Matthews, AVDC HR Manager, said: “We are committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of staff which, in turn, helps us to provide the best service possible to our residents.

“We have various supporting measures to assist staff while they are off and on their return to work. These include access to our occupational health and specialist counselling services.

“The causes of mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are often complex and may result from situations at work, at home or a combination of both.

“We do have people doing difficult and stressful jobs and overall the environment is a tough one with the cuts going through local government.

“Sickness absence generally has been falling over recent years and we are getting better at understanding why people are taking time off, managing that and helping them.”