Stressed council staff could get therapy to stop them going off sick
STRESSED council workers could soon be asked to undergo special therapy sessions in a bid to stop them calling in sick.
Cheshire East Council is considering the introduction of a counselling service in the hope it could help lower stress levels among employees.
It is estimated the authority could save £1.4 million a year if sick days are reduced by just one per cent.
Latest figures show that, on average, each Cheshire East Council worker took more than eight sick days in the last financial year – compared with seven days during 2009/10.
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The proposed 'employee assistance programme' – which would cost between £40,000 and £45,000 – would mean employees can be referred to counsellors at an early stage for help and advice on how to reduce stress.
The authority is now in talks regarding the scheme and is considering how it could be funded.
Council leader Michael Jones supports the proposal.
He said: "This scheme will allow us to see if there are any managerial problems and will allow us to assess the amount of stress felt by our employees.
"The way the council works has changed a lot over the past year or so and lots of people have be forced to take on more work than they normally would.
"So if we can work with the programme to introduce new methods to make their jobs easier, it would be hoped staff stress levels would decrease."
The council's Staffing Committee heard how staff who have been referred to the programme will be given the choice to visit Macclesfield's Occupational Health Clinic for treatment following the introduction of two new therapists.
Councillor Janet Jackson said: "It is really important to staff who are likely to use this programme that it is totally confidential.
"People who are under stress, and who have concerns in their personal and professional lives, need to feel completely confident about this system and that any issues they are raising are kept in confidence."
But Hugh Emerson, secretary of the Crewe and District Pensioners' Association, believes the scheme would be a waste of money.
He said: "Cheshire East Council need to think about what is more important.
"Spending this money on a counselling service for their staff, or putting it back into the frontline services which have been cut, despite being so desperately needed at the moment."
Conservative councillor Howard Murray echoed the views of Mr Emerson.
He said: "I have seen money spent on these programmes completely and utterly wasted in the past because most people don't use them and the rest don't know they exist – because at the end of the day nobody is going to admit to using them."