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London councils hit by staggering staff stress levels amid job cuts

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Staff working in councils across London have taken off tens of thousands of days over the last few years due to stress, and councils are spending thousands of pounds annually on counselling for staff, a LondonlovesBusiness.com investigation can reveal.

Westminster Council staff took nearly 9,000 days for stress-related absence from 2009 to 2012. Merton Coucil lost 3,122 days in 2012 due to stress.

Staff at Enfield Council lost nearly one fifth of their time (16.65%) over 2012 due to stress, a sharp climb from 13.89% in 2009.

Kingston lost 1,760 days in 2011/2012 due to staff stress, an increase from 2008/2009 when it was just 1,214 days.

Barking and Dagenham Council’s employees took 1,735 days off for stress in 2012, nearly twice as much as the 1,020 days in 2009.

The stress levels in Wandsworth Council have soared over the last few years from 832 days off in 2009 to 1,312 in 2012. At the same time, the council has had to spend £9,051 on counselling in 2012, sizeably more than £6,586 in 2009.

The financial toll of counselling staff is as high as £32,000 per year from some councils. The nature of the counselling cannot be disclosed due to confidentiality issues but it is known that counselling is provided for staff suffering from stress.

Hillingdon Council forked out £32,523 in 2009/2010 on counselling staff, although that figure has decreased over time. It was £20,215 in 2011/2012.

Kensington & Chelsea Council has shelled out £23,060 in 2012 for counselling staff, an increase from 2011 when the bill was £18,864.

Croydon Council spent £17,627 on counselling for staff, equivalent to £5 per employee, up from £14,756 in 2011.

Redbridge Council’s staff had to take 4,280 days off due to stress in 2011/2012, nearly double the rate in 2009/10 when it was 2,778, spending nearly £35,000 each year on counselling throughout that period.  

Bexley Council spent over £20,000 each year from 2009 to 2011 providing counselling for staff.

Greenwich Council spent £12,285 on counselling from 2009 to 2012, with stress-related days off decreasing from 13,101 in 2009 down to 10,420 in 2011/2012.

Hounslow Council saw stress levels rise from 2,595 days having to be taken off in 2009 to 3,146 in 2012, as well as providing 722 hours of counselling in 2012. This compares with 570 hours in 2009.

Employee health specialists point out that the rising levels of stress could be exacerbated by feelings of job insecurity. Kate Nowlan, chief executive of CiC, told LondonlovesBusiness.com: “We’re seeing a marked increase in the number of calls to our employee assistance help lines, particularly in the last six months.

“And for employees who may have already been referred for counselling through our support services, we’re seeking a jump in requests for additional sessions to support them through prolonged uncertainty and stress relating to their job security and threats of further cuts.

“The climate of austerity that many of us are having to work through reinforces feelings of insecurity among workers; unsurprisingly it’s natural to be concerned about whether your job will exist in the coming months. And combined with huge reorganisation programmes taking place across the public sector, employees also need to deal with massive change.

“Such change may mean a reduction in headcount for some public sector organisations or an increased workload for some individuals who are required to take on additional tasks.”

Fortunately, other councils are faring better in terms of stress. Sutton Council saw the amount of days taken off due to stress plummet from 2,666 in 2009 down to 1,170 in 2012.

Barnet Council has seen its bill for counselling stressed staff tumble from £23,450 in 2009 down to £7,680 for 2012.

Similarly, the City of London Corporation saw a decrease in the bill for counselling staff. It went down from £12,108 in 2010/2011 to £4,536 in 2011/2012.

Waltham Forest Council saw the level of days off taken due to stress decrease from 4,098 in 2012 to 2,489 in 2009.

Brent Council staff took 2,123 days off due to stress in 2012, a decrease from 3,559 days in 2009. Similarly, Tower Hamlets staff took 5,496 days off in 2012, compared to 7,738 in 2009.

Meanwhile, Bromley Council enjoyed a gradual decrease over 2009 to 2012 with working days lost due to stress falling from 1,813 to 1,603. The council spent £69,530 on counselling over the same period.

The revelations came after a series of Freedom of Information Requests by LondonlovesBusiness.com.

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