STRESS is costing the county’s public services tens of thousands of lost working days and millions of pounds, according to shock figures.
The amount of sick time taken by those working in Dorset’s councils, police and fire services can be revealed by the Echo today.
Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner and campaigners are concerned over the numbers.
Figures obtained by the Echo show that Dorset Police have lost 11,980 working days to stress since 2008.
Dorset Fire and Rescue Service lost 2,143 days between 2011 and October 2013.
Dorset County Council lost 9,712 days between 2011 and June last year.
And the West Dorset and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council authorities have lost more than 1,885 working days since April 2012.
The organisations say it is not possible to calculate exactly how much illness equates to in monetary terms because of the huge difference in pay scales between those at the lower end of the ladder and those at the top.
But if the figures were calculated using the average wage in Dorset, which was £24,927 in 2012, the overall cost to public services would be almost £3million.
PCC Martyn Underhill said figures would be high across all public services for a number of reasons, such as stress due to cutbacks.
He said levels of sickness within Dorset Police have gone up in the last two years and it is something he is keen to change. He said there is a project being undertaken by human resources at the moment to try and address the issue.
He added: “This is a tough time – people are worried about their jobs.
“Certainly the police service has undergone a massive change – officers feel they’re being attacked on all sides. It’s worrying.”
He said that the issue comes under the remit of the Chief Constable but reducing levels of sickness is something he is keen to achieve. The figures are recorded differently by each authority, with Weymouth and Portland and West Dorset District stressing that their combined number is for ‘all absences under the category of ‘mind, psychological, stress, and depression’ and not just those related to stress.
Director of resources Jason Vaughan said: “The figures for staff sickness absence are broadly in line with other councils but we are working hard on trying to reduce these.
“As a responsible employer the Shared Services Partnership has appropriate support for staff who are feeling stressed at work.”
Dorset County Council’s figures include employees taking time off because of work-related and non-work related stress.
It has an ‘Employee Wellbeing Strategy’ which includes counselling and support to try and reduce sick days caused by stress.
Helping employees could save firms money
A mental health charity says more needs to be done to help employees before their problem gets worse, saving ‘huge amounts of money in the long run’.
Emma Mamo, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said: “We know that people who work within public services have demanding roles, so it’s vital that measures are in place to support them through difficult times, particularly in the current economic climate when many people are concerned about funding cuts, redundancies and increased workloads.
“Presenteeism – employees coming to work when they’re not very well and then not performing at their best – from mental ill health alone, costs the UK economy £15.1billion a year, more than absenteeism.
“Most jobs have an element of pressure, but when this stress is persistent it can negatively impact both physical and mental health, which is costly to businesses.
“That’s why it’s in the interests of all employers to invest in the mental wellbeing of all staff before things get worse.
“Small, inexpensive measures can make a big difference to staff mental health and save organisations a huge amount of money in the long run.”
Council has employee wellbeing strategy
A spokesman for Dorset County Council said: “The council’s employee wellbeing strategy describes how we aim to create a working environment that promotes health and wellbeing for the mutual benefit of the organisation and its employees.
“This is echoed in the council’s recently revised stress management policy which states the organisation’s commitment to reducing the incidence and impact of work related stress within the county council and providing an appropriate level of support to employees.
The support available to individual employees includes: Counselling Support from a specially trained colleague Access to occupational health services Signposting to specialist debt, drug and alcohol counselling and support The stress management procedure includes the use of a stress risk assessment tool developed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to identify causes of work-related stress and inform appropriate action to manage these.”
Sick days are recorded differently
A spokesman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said it had a different method of recording sick days.
For example, a retained firefighter is ‘on call’ all week but may only be due to work two hours. However, if they are sick for the seven days of a week, then that is recorded – rather than just the two-hour period they were due to work.
The spokesman added: “This distorts the figure from what you would expect to see from a normal office-based, 9am to 5pm role.”
A Dorset Police spokesman said: “The regular and reliable attendance of all staff at work is fundamental to the ability of Dorset Police to effectively deliver policing to the people of Dorset.
“In common with national trends Dorset Police is experiencing higher levels of sickness absence than in previous years. Of course, the wellbeing of our staff is immensely important as are appropriate methods of managing sickness absence.
“Dorset Police is reviewing its procedures and one of the changes made is the reduction of the Bradford Factor trigger level for management support.
“The Bradford Factor can provide a useful indicator that a pattern of absence needs further investigation in order to identify any possible underlying cause.”
Robert Oxley, campaign director for the Taxpayers’ Alliance said: “Some time off due to illness is unavoidable but the public sector should aim to reduce the levels to those commonly found in private sector – there’s no reason why there should be any difference between the two.
“Excessive time off costs taxpayers a small fortune and requires staff to cover those not at their posts.”
The true cost of stress
There are 104 weekend days in a year, 28 days’ paid holiday for the average worker and eight bank holidays.
So the average worker is getting paid for 261 days a year including their holiday allowance and bank holidays.
The South West Observatory calculates that the average wage in Dorset for 2012 was £24,972 This, divided by 261 is £95.67 a day. This average daily wage of £95.67 multiplied by 30,000 sick days equals £2,870,100 However, the average Dorset wage has risen by around 6.6 per cent since 2010 meaning the cost for sick days due to stress in 2008, 2009 and 2010 may be less.
The figures go up to October last year so there may have been more sick days due to stress taken since this time.