Career Clinic – sickness absences are overwhelming my team

Q: I am a manager of a children and families referral unit in a local authority that has seen a sharp rise in referrals in the last six months. Staff have been struggling to cope with an increase in caseloads and we have experienced high levels of sickness absence. We have been provided with some agency cover but it is not enough, and the remaining staff are left working round the clock to meet deadlines. What can I do to stabilise the situation?”

A: It is clear from the question that both you and your team are under some real pressures and constraints due to staffing levels, high sickness and the use of agency cover.

Managing sickness absence is always a sensitive area. It would be easy to assume that the increase in referrals and caseloads are leading to the rise in sickness within the team, but that may not be the case. It’s really important to ensure that you explore the reasons why people are absent from work and the underlying causes, whether these are professional or personal, and to try to identify solutions with the person concerned.

Return to work interviews are an important way to help understand such issues and should be undertaken following any period of sickness absence. It’s also important to keep in touch with people during their absence from work and to take early action to help colleagues get back to work as soon as possible. Additional advice and support to help you manage these issues should also be available from HR and your occupational health colleagues.

Finally, my other point would be the need to discuss these issues fully and frankly with your manager. Staffing levels and workloads need to be reviewed regularly and it may be necessary for other teams to provide some short-term support to you, rather than getting more agency cover, which usually costs more and still needs someone to train them to use your systems/processes. Your manager has a duty of care towards you and your team, which needs to be seriously addressed. Equally, it’s important that the services for children and young people are [check] adversely affected by these pressures and issues.

Stephen Moir is corporate director – people, policy and law at Cambridgeshire County Council


“I manage a team of social workers and have recently discovered that some are taking anti-depressants. My dilemma is how to handle the situation as a colleague from another team told me. Should I talk to my staff and risk losing the confidence of my colleague. And how can I support my team when I know the reason they are depressed is partly to do with high workloads caused by a shortage of skilled staff.”

If you would like to suggest any questions or have an answer based on your experience to the scenario above, please e-mail Daniel Lombard

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