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SICKNESS absence appears to have plummeted during the coronavirus crisis among Swansea Council’s 11,000-strong workforce.

Before the lockdown, council employees had just over 13 days off sick per year on average. Between March 31 and December 31 last year the average was just under eight days.

A councillor group was told at a meeting that staff generally liked working from home, although this wasn’t possible for some of them, like refuse collectors and home carers.

Sarah Lackenby, chief transformation officer, said 90% of staff who responded to a survey found working from home very good, good or neutral.

She said 87% of respondents felt they were more productive at home, with 84% keen to do two days from home at least when Covid restrictions ease further.

She said the anecdotal evidence was that staff felt they had more access to colleagues and managers remotely, via Microsoft Teams, than they did normally face-to-face.

Asked if staff had found working from home harder as the months had passed, Ms Lackenby said: “I think probably everyone has found it harder as time has gone on.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily working from home per se, I think it’s because people have been confined to their house.”

Being able to go out in the evenings and at weekends, she said, made it a different proposition. A further staff survey is planned.

Deputy council leader Cllr Andrea Lewis said she expected a blended approach of home and office work in the future.

Cllr Lewis said lots of people missed “water cooler conversations and corridor catch-ups”.

She said: “You will never get rid of the office environment – it will always be needed. But I think we can work smarter as well.”

The report before the cross-party committee said the authority had 11,038 employees at the end of December, nearly 100 more than nine months previously.

Just over 60% of staff are female. The youngest employee is 16; the oldest a sprightly 86.

The report broke down sickness rates among the various departments before and after last March’s lockdown.

Ms Lackenby said the significant drop in sickness absence should be taken with a degree of caution as the council needed to look further at how these absences were recorded.

According to the report, staff in the education department – excluding schools – normally had nearly 29 days a month off sick on average. This dropped to 18 days.

The communications and marketing team in contrast took just under six days off sick on average, which fell to just over three days during the pandemic.

Departments that experienced the largest decrease included child and family services, where sickness rates decreased from nearly 24 days off per year to just under 10, and the social services commissioning team, where sickness rates fell from nearly 18 days to just under five.

Ms Lackenby said staff had been very keen during the pandemic to help the council’s food bank support programme and the Test, Trace and Protect team.

The report also said the council had 165 agency workers as of January 31, 2021. The vast majority are refuse collectors and work in the waste, parks and cleansing department.

Cllr Joe Hale said these agency workers deserved to be brought in-house.

“The greatest reward that we can offer them is to give them a contract,” he said. “It’s the moral thing to do.”

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