Northern Ireland news

Stressed civil servants' sickness absence levels hit five-year high

Stress has been linked to higher sick leave among civil servants in Northern Ireland
Seanín Graham

STRESS and anxiety-related illnesses have contributed to the highest levels of sick leave in the Northern Ireland Civil Service in five years, a report has found.

Staff at the Department of Justice took the most sick days, at an average of 15.3 during 2016/17.

The civil service average was 12.4 days, compared with 11.7 the previous year.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency said £32.7 million was lost in production as a result.

Its report noted that long-term absence was particularly high, with one in eight staff off for an average of three months – also the highest since 2011/12.

Women took more sick leave than men, with more than half the difference linked to female-specific illnesses including pregnancy-related disorders.

Civil servants in the Executive Office had the lowest absence rates of all Stormont departments, at an average of 7.9 days.

Statisticians found that staff who had been in post for less than two years – the majority of whom work under much stricter probationary terms where sick leave is closely scrutinised – had less absence (three days) than more experienced employees.

The annual target for sickness absence is 8.5 days.

The report said “anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses’” accounted for more than a third of working days lost last year.

“Within this category, work-related stress accounted for a third of the days,” it read.

Around 25,000 people are civil servants for Stormont departments.

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