COUNCIL chiefs say more work will be done to improve the health and wellbeing of staff after sickness levels increased at the authority, despite a concerted effort to reduce days lost through sick leave.

A major drive was launched last year to reduce sickness days.

The Globe reported at the time that senior management said they had brought in new procedures “to control sickness effectively”.

But the measures have not had the desired effect with the average number of days each employee will take off sick rising to more than 11 per year – almost two days more than before the crackdown began.

The national average is four sick days a year.

Deputy council leader Cllr Ann McLachlan said the figures have been "skewed" by one department.

A corporate governance report has “red-flagged” sick leave reduction moves as failing to hit agreed measures.

It says: "It is forecast that the year-end sickness absence will be 1.92 days above the 9.75 day target.

"However management action is being taken to reduce the level of sickness absence across the council including proposed changes to the sickness policy and triggers from September.

"Strategic director-led sessions [will be held] with managers to set expectations and the development of an employee well being plan are expected to bring improvements."

The issue is so pressing that a special report was presented to Thursday’s meeting of Wirral’s ruling cabinet, the first to convene after the summer break.

During the meeting, Cllr McLachlan said it was important to note that the figures are for the first quarter of the year and are expected to improve in the coming months.

She did however say that more needs to be done to improve the number of days lost to sick leave.

“There is room for improvement on this,” she said, “Initiatives have been put in place to work with managers and employees and actually to work with departments on wellbeing plans and occupational health.

“One particular department has skewed the figures and we have a plan in place to pull it back.”

Last year, although more than 2,800 staff attended stress awareness training courses, the condition was still proving to be the biggest cause of sickness absence.

Workloads and “management style” were cited by local authority workers in a staff survey as being the primary reasons they are stressed-out and off sick.

And the town hall's Human Resources department said mental health issues were to blame for 30% of sick leave.

Several initiatives were launched to improve performance including appointing an in-house occupational health nurse, stress management advice and a flu vaccination programme.

The authority also tightened up its absence management procedures and introduced a mandatory referral to occupational health for all absences after four weeks.

But the HR department warned cost-cutting, the threat of redundancy and major structural shake-ups taking their toll: “The number of people employed by the council will continue to reduce as major change programmes are implemented to increase efficiency and make financial savings.

"This has and continues to create a very uncertain and difficult context for managers and employees concerned about the level of change and job security.”

The same report also red-flagged an almost total lack of staff appraisals being carried out by managers.

In the first quarter of the year, just 2% of the workforce had had their annual review.

By the end of August 26% had been completed, including 58% of management appraisals.

Cllr McLachlan said the authority would meet its target by the end of the second quarter.