MENTAL health and stress is still seen a taboo for council staff, a human resources manager has said. 

In an effort to make it easier for staff to talk to managers about their mental health, West Berkshire Council is introducing a new policy. 

The stress and mental wellbeing policy improves the guidance for managers and staff, and encourages better dialogue between staff and managers. 

Rebecca Bird, human resources manager, said: “Stress and mental health is the most common reason for absence for council staff. But that’s common across local government.” 

Ms Bird was giving the new reasons for the policy to the council’s personnel committee on October 15, and asking for councillors to approve it. 

The previous policy was introduced in 2009, and she said general feedback showed the need for a change in how staff are supported. 

On average, staff at West Berkshire Council take 8.9 days off sick each year. 

Ms Bird said: “Managers said that staff aren’t open enough. People still see it as a taboo subject.” 

The new policy includes risk assessments and signposting for other sources of support. 

Robert O’Reilly, head of human resources, said the council was ‘about the same’ as others across the country, in terms of average number of days staff take off sick. 

He said that the public sector on average is ‘slightly higher than local government’. And those working for the prison service take on average about 15 days a year. 

Mr O’Reilly said: “Clearly, the private sector has a different approach to sickness than the public sector, like not getting paid for the first three days for example. 

“But then, that leads to people coming in when they’re sick, and spreading germs. That’s not the public sector way.”

Councillor Garth Simpson (Con, Chieveley & Cold Ash), chair of the personnel committee, said: “As a body of work, it’s excellent, very thorough and comprehensive.”

Councillors on the personnel committee voted to approve the new policy.