Sick Leave Increasing

Sick leave increasing as bullying declines

The amount of sick leave taken by NSW public sector employees has risen by 7.9 per cent in the last five years, suggesting employers need to introduce strategies for the ageing workforce and disengaged employees, a new report has found.

It also found workplace bullying in the public sector decreased between 2012 and 2014.

The Public Service Commission’s (PSC’s) State of the NSW Public Sector Report 2015, released last week, says the upward trend in sick leave “raises concerns about the health of the workforce and the impacts on productivity”.

The report shows that full-time equivalent employees took an average of 61.4 hours of sick leave each in 2015, compared to 60.5 last year and 56.9 in 2010.

It notes that some sick leave patterns have remained stable over time, including that workers over 50 and those in occupations that involve a lot of community interaction or more physical work take more sick leave than their colleagues.

It also shows that people in higher “grades” (relating to administration and clerical awards) take less sick leave than those in lower grades, indicating there might be a “connection between sick leave and engagement levels”, with those in lower grades being less engaged in their work and more willing to take leave.

“But it may also indicate that work pressures and accountability lead managers to take less leave, even when they need it,” the report says.

It says employers “need to put in place strategies that help them monitor sick leave figures and trends; create strategies for preventing and managing the impact of unplanned leave; and create plans for addressing the ageing NSW public sector workforce”.

“This may require a more developed and nuanced approach to workforce planning and management,” it says.

It says the PSC plans to introduce a “workforce dashboard” for public sector agencies by the end of the year to compile “various data sources” such as the NSW Workforce Profile and the People Matter survey “to enable a more sophisticated approach to analytics and planning”.

(The NSW Workforce Profile is a collection of demographic characteristics and employment arrangements data and the People Matter survey measures how public sector employees perceive management practices.)

Bullying decreasing but employers must improve culture

According to the report, the PSC is in the final stages of developing a “bullying dashboard”, which will also use Workforce Profile and People Matter survey data, to track:

  • the incidence of bullying, measured by employee reports of witnessed and experienced incidents and formal complaints made;
  • psychosocial factors most related to bullying, including leadership support, team morale and performance feedback practices; and
  • potential outcomes that occur as a result of bullying such as sick leave, turnover, loss of tenure and workers’ comp claims.

The dashboard will help leaders “understand why bullying might have occurred and the broader ramifications”, improve awareness of bullying when it occurs and increase understanding about the organisational costs of a workplace environment where it exists, the report says.

It says the most recent results of the People Matter survey of 73,550 public sector employees showed workers being subjected to bullying decreased from 29 per cent in 2012 to 23 per cent in 2014.

Reports of witnessing bullying also dropped from 48 per cent in 2012 to 41 per cent in 2014, it says.

For those who experienced bullying, the most common culprits were their immediate manager or supervisor (28%), a senior manager (23%) or a colleague (23%).

The most frequent forms of bullying were negative body language, gestures or glances (44%); avoiding or ignoring (43%); mistreating one or more colleagues (41%); withholding important information (33%); and devaluing work efforts (32%), the report says.

It notes that the NSW Self Insurance Corporation (SICorp) received 467 workers’ comp claims relating to work-related harassment or bullying in 2014, costing $16.7 million – an improvement from 2013, where it received 500 such claims costing $20.8 million.

The report recommends employers “continue developing respectful workplace environments that eschew harassment and bullying” by:

  • fostering cultures that encourage ‘speaking up’;
  • developing supportive leadership teams to prevent this type of conduct; and
  • identifying and tracking the progress of specific management actions to ensure issues are quickly addressed when they do arise.