STRESS is the biggest cause of staff sickness absence at Carmarthenshire Council but just over half of these lost days are due to issues outside work, assistant chief executive Paul Thomas said.

Mr Thomas said mental health was a big issue for all employers.

He was speaking at a policy and resources scrutiny committee meeting, which heard the council was missing its sickness absence target – although the figures were for just the first quarter of the financial year.

“As an employer, we are trying to support these staff as best as we can,” said Mr Thomas.

The target for the authority come the end of the year is no more than 9.6 days lost per employee.

Addressing the committee, Mr Thomas said: “Over the last year we have done really well – there is still a long way to go.

“The biggest reason (for sickness absence) is stress, and part of that is mental health.”

He added: “When you analyse the stress stats, just over 50% are not work related.”

Mr Thomas said the council’s sickness policy was “pretty robust”, and that sessions for managers and staff about mental were being arranged from November onwards.

Councillor Jeff Edmunds asked if job vacancies within the authority were linked to stress at work by increasing the workload for staff.

“I’m wondering if it’s a false economy,” he said.

Head of financial services Randal Hemingway said no staff in his department had been off with work stress this year, while Mr Thomas said any correlation could be addressed because staff who were off with stress had to fill in a questionnaire.

“We know what the substantive cause is,” he said.

In April, the council began allowing staff to purchase up to 10 days leave per year, except those at local authority-managed schools.

As well as reducing the staff pay bill, council chiefs said they hoped it would improve employees’ work-life balance and decrease sickness absence.

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