STAFF sickness and turnover has increased at Dorset Council with the authority now having worse than average figures.

Much of the increase is said to be due to stress and mental illness, some of it brought on by recent changes as six councils became one.

The latest figures show a 14.1 per cent overall turnover rate and a sickness absence of 9.09 days per person. The local authority national averages are 13.8 per cent turnover and 8.6 days sickness.

The department with the highest turnover is ‘insight and corporate communications’ with 20.93 per cent although it has the lowest sickness rates of just 1.86 days.

One of the biggest departments with relatively high staff turnover is children’s social services with a 14.89 per cent rate. The figure comes with a warning that this is expected to get worse between January and March next year when the outcomes of the Blueprint for Change re-organisation currently underway kick in. Sickness in the department has gone up from 8.27 days in March to 10.13 days on average in September.

In adult social services the figure for turnover has remained steady at 13.79 per cent but sickness has increased from 7.48 days in March to 10.04 days in September.

Council leader Cllr Spencer Flower said the authority recognises that a time of great change will affect some staff and the authority is doing what it can to help: “Clearly this is a time of great change and that can lead to increased absence. Some will be long term issues undoubtedly caused by serious illness, but we will also see other short term absences. The top three reasons cited for absence are mental health, musculoskeletal and digestive.

“There is a lot of pressure in both adults and children’s social work teams due to the demands on roles increasing, as we work with people with ever higher dependency needs. This is a national trend and is not specific to Dorset.”

“Reasons for increase in mental health-related absence are made up of a combination of factors. This includes a planned campaign to reduce the stigma around mental health, and therefore employees may be more confident to report their absence being mental health-related than was previously the case. Overall, we have had a relatively small number of employees with long term absence, most of which have now returned to work. The trend is not out of line for what we would normally expect for the time of year.

“Dorset Council has put actions in place that include monthly monitoring of mental health absences at Directorate Leadership level and additional guidance to managers on how to maintain regular contact with employees who are absent due to mental health. We are therefore expecting a fall in mental health absence in the future.

Other department figures generally show an increase in turnover and sickness -

In the Place department turnover is 13.46 per cent with some vacancies currently being filled by agency workers although building control, within the department, claims it has plans to reduce fees for agency staff by £1,000 per week.

Corporate development has seen a 14.1 per cent turnover rate, said to be influenced by a large number of staff who were taken on with fixed term contracts during local government reorganisation earlier in the year and who have now left. In the year to September sickness absences stood at 6.88 days.

Legal and democratic services has a 15.87 per cent turnover rate and 7.71 days sickness