Is it any surprise that Whitehall civil servants took a record 661,433 sick days due to mental health last year – 38 per cent more than the already-phenomenal 558,125 of the year before?
Labour says data reveals ‘mental health crisis at the heart of Whitehall’, as unions blame staff cuts, low pay and long hours.
The figures show that the amount of mental health-related sick leave across the heart of government has been rising continuously for the past decade.
Civil servants at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) took the most sick days for mental health in 2021-22 – a total of 280,597. Staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) took off almost as much time – 236,365 days – while the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had the third-highest total, at 88,723 days.
Unions representing Whitehall workers blamed the rising numbers on increased workloads, the impact of Covid-19, staff cuts, low pay, long hours and poor morale.
And the unions are exactly right.
The Tories cut public service pay as soon as they could after taking office – by freezing it for several years at a time (if I recall correctly). So already these employees were being placed under increasing stress because they were finding it harder to make ends meet – and this has become progressively worse.
Staff has been cut back hard, meaning workloads have increased, meaning those who remain are having to work longer hours to hit their targets – if possible.
Oh, and we are told that Tory government ministers have developed a fondness for mistreating their staff as well.
Result: low morale.
Roll all that together and you have a dangerous concoction that is likely to harm the mentality of anybody forced to partake of it.
There is a solution – but it is not one that would occur to a Tory.
You simply employ enough staff to get the job done within normal working hours, and pay them a salary that adequately compensates them for the time they put in and the expertise they bring to the work.
And instead of berating them for failure, you make sure that they are praised for success.
Not only will morale and mental health improve, meaning fewer days’ work will be lost due to illness, but the quality of the work will improve and the people carrying it out will want to stay in the job – because they’re good at it, it’s rewarding and the atmosphere is welcoming.
That’s how you motivate a workforce and keep its members healthy.
But it will never happen under a Conservative government.