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SICKNESS absences among staff at Vale of Glamorgan council dropped significantly last year despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Stress remained the main reason council workers took sickness absences, accounting for almost four in ten days off.

Working from home could mean fewer employees are reporting sickness, leading to a potential problem of “presenteeism”, where staff are sick but still turn up for work.

Self-isolating for 10 days was not included in the sickness figures, but if employees stayed off work for longer, each further day off would be counted.

Over the last financial year, an average of 8.6 days were lost to sickness absence per full-time council employee— down from 10.5 days the previous year. In total, 30,437 days were lost to sickness absences last year, compared to 37,330 the previous year.

The figures were revealed in a report to the cabinet, which will meet on Monday, June 7. The report stated: “The ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic has played a large part in the overall lower absence levels so far in 2020.

“Staff may be working from home currently, where sickness may not be reported, especially for short-term absences. Although only 8.6 days were lost per employee due to recorded sickness absence, there is a potential more non-productive days are lost to presenteeism.”

Presenteeism means going to work while ill and not performing at your full ability. Several researchers have recently raised the problem as draining productivity across workforces.

In the Vale, council bosses are trying to reduce presenteeism with digital apps, wellbeing programmes, and managing the use of annual leave. A larger driver is thought to be stress.

After stress, the most common reason for sickness absences were musculoskeletal, viral infection, and operations. Four out of five days absent last year were classed as long-term sickness, meaning taking time off for more than four weeks.

Staff at the Vale council who report stress or anxiety problems are offered counselling and advice from occupational health. The counselling service was much busier last year, due in part to the wider impact of the pandemic, like family members unwell, jobless or furloughed.

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