Staff absence at Crawley Borough Council caused mainly by stress and depression

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Stress, depression and other mental health problems have been the main reason for staff absence at Crawley Borough Council over the past year.

And the level of abusive behaviour staff face from residents has increased since the pandemic.

The news was shared in an annual update on staff health, morale and sickness, which was presented to a meeting of the overview & scrutiny commission on Monday (June 3).

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Throughout 2023/24, mental health issues accounted for 29% of absences, with operations, post-op and hospital appointments accounting for 12% – this replaced Covid, which dropped out of the top three, with only seven people reporting a positive test in the last quarter of the financial year.

Crawley Town HallCrawley Town Hall
Crawley Town Hall

Musculoskeletal issues – not back related – accounted for 11%.

Overall, the absences cost the council £658,793.34 – around £126,000 higher than in 2022/23.

As for the abuse received by staff, chief executive officer Ian Duke said he didn’t see the situation improving.

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He added: “Not so long ago, we’d see something abusive towards staff once every six weeks. It’s now a weekly, if not more frequent, event.

“There has been a significant change in the last couple of years and even within the last few months.”

More people are heading to the town hall since the pandemic, keen to return to face-to-face discussions rather than phone or online.

There is currently an SIA-trained officer (Security Industry Authority) at the town hall, who has already had to de-escalate one incident.

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Mr Duke said the council didn’t want to get to the point where there was a security officer on the door as it was not the message a public building should be giving.

But the situation had to be looked into – possibly with someone who was both SIA trained but could also help with enquiries about council services.

He added: “We’re now at a stage, unfortunately, where we need that intervention downstairs. The question is how we best do that.”

On the issue of staff well-being, a number of workshops and initiatives are available to staff, with help and advice ranging from a flu vaccination programme to menopause advice to a workplace savings scheme.

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When it came to the counselling scheme, 31 referrals were received in 2023/24, with 13 requesting extra help.

This compared to 34 in 2022/23 with 10 requests for extra help.

Referring to the slight drop in numbers, Gurinder Jhans (Lab, Northgate & West Green) said: “As we know, it can be quite a taboo thing and there can be some stigma around it.

“[We have to] try and do as much as possible to ensure that staff do feel supported and take away that there is support for them and that they should be able to speak up with some confidence if they can.

“Hopefully next year we’ll see a decrease in that 29%.”