With budget cuts driving workforce reduction, public sector HR teams are tackling stress, absenteeism and mental ill health at the very moment they need to get the most from their staff. Here’s how one council achieved both goals.
Like many businesses, public sector HR teams face a dual challenge right now. The need for efficiency savings means more is being demanded from fewer staff – increasing stress while requiring ever-greater productivity and performance.
It’s no surprise that public sector absence rates are higher than average. For example, the Local Government Association says in 2016/17, 8.7 days were lost to sickness per full-time employee. Looking at the data, it’s clear that stress and anxiety, as well as poor manager support, are massive factors in this.
A performance culture starts with wellbeing
Arguably, absenteeism is the biggest barrier to public sector performance. But there’s good news: many councils are now starting to face these challenges head on – and they’re starting with employee wellbeing.
Bradford Council, for example, has needed hundreds of millions of pounds worth of budget savings in recent years, so AdviserPlus has been working with the Council’s HR team to help its people transition to a new, high-efficiency culture.
Corporate HR manager Simon Jenkins explains: “We need a modern workforce that operates in an efficient way. That means getting the best out of people, helping them realise their potential, and aligning their work to the goals of the organisation.”
The council started in an unusual place: management skills.
Helping managers to set the tone
Behind every average absence statistic, there are individual cases. People who are away from work and – often – who can be helped. That means the battle for a productive corporate culture, managers are the front line.
This is where Bradford Council started – boosting engagement and skills among managers at all levels. Hundreds benefited from a proven, three-stage training programme, including mental health awareness – and, importantly, how to spot problems early and intervene.
Increasingly, managers were equipped to have the small conversations that can have a big cumulative impact – because wellbeing, attendance and performance are fundamentally connected.
To get the best performance, give the right support
In one case, a manager sat down with an employee to talk about why he was falling behind. She learned he was facing an extremely stressful time in his life and hadn’t realised how much those issues were affecting his work.
Because of her training, the manager referred her team member for an occupational health appointment followed by weekly counselling. The employee is now happier, and the council has seen improvements in his responsiveness at work.
We hear this kind of story every day. And together, these conversations have significant results – and not only in absence and performance. Bradford Council is seeing fewer short-term absences, and it’s losing less time to disciplinary and grievance cases too.
At AdviserPlus, we study mountains of employee absence data. And we see how management skills like the ones Bradford Council have acquired make a fundamental difference to any organisation handling absenteeism, performance or change. Because business-wide change starts with getting those conversations right.
To find out more about Bradford Council’s story and manager training courses from AdviserPlus click here.