THOUSANDS of staff absences – mainly owing to mental health and Covid-19 infections – have cost Barnsley Council more than £5.5m in the last two years, a report into its workforce’s sickness record has revealed.

In the 2021/22 financial year, the local authority lost an average of 10.24 days per employee – an increase of 2.74 days when compared to 2020/21 – and two weeks per staff member a year.

‘Through the roof’ mental health-related issues and Covid-19 were the top two main reasons, the Chronicle can reveal, which accounted for more than 25,000 missed days combined from 2020.

The report said: “The main reason for absence during 2021/2022 was mental health including stress, anxiety and depression – these absences amounted to a cost of £1,277,215.

“In 2020/2021, the cost was £931,659.

“The second-highest reason for absence during 2021/2022 was an infectious disease, mainly Covid-19.

“These absences amounted to 4,460 days at a cost of £449,016.

“In 2020/2021, the number of days of absence for infectious diseases was 2,764 days at a cost of £287,990.

“Our performance target for 2021/2022 was an average of no more than seven-and-a-half days’ sickness absence per employee, per year.

“The average total days lost per employee was 10.24 days, an increase of 2.74 days lost per employee from 2020/2021, from 7.77.

“Our total number of days of absence in 2021/2022 was 33,117 days, at a cost of £3,289,547 and the year before the total number of days of absence was 23,964 days, at a cost of £2,361,141.”

Other main reasons for absence were gastrointestinal issues, heart and circulatory, backache, musculoskeletal, cancer, injury and cough, colds and flu.

However, for mental health-related absences, counselling is offered by the council’s occupational health team, and 252 employees accessed this during 2021/22.

The report added: “Our figures are following the same national and local trends in terms of showing the highest absence rates reported since 2014/15.

“The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported that sickness absence last year had gone ‘through the roof’ following the pandemic.

“The UK’s total absence rate is the highest recorded since 2010.

“In July and August 2021, we conducted an internal communications campaign encouraging employees to look after their own health and wellbeing by taking time out through annual leave, regular breaks from work, holding outdoor meetings, promoting self-care tips such as free massages, use of volunteering days and encouraging people to be more active to improve their physical health.

“Our e-learning mental health courses are available on our internal learning platform – these include courses on mental health awareness, emotional intelligence, email stress, personal resilience, suicide prevention and managing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

“We value our employees and want to demonstrate that we are committed to supporting them to lead healthy and fulfilling lives both inside and outside of work.”