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In 2014, a quarter of all sick days at the National Museum were stress-related

The National Museum of Ireland has been accused of harbouring a culture of bullying and intimidation.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

THE NUMBER OF sick days taken at the National Museum of Ireland in 2013, 2014 and 2015 was almost double that of the average public sector worker.

Figures released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act show that in 2014, an average of 16 sick days were taken per person, with almost 4 of these days related to stress.

That compares with an average of six sick leave days in the Irish private sector and 8.7 days in the public service sector for 2014.

The National Museum has been embroiled in accusations of long-term bullying, intimidation and threats, since a wellbeing report showed what was described as a ‘toxic’ culture of bullying that severely affects staff members.

The figures below show the average number of sick days taken off in the past eight years at the Museum and how many of them were due to stress, anxiety, depression or work-related illnesses:

  • 2006: total of 1,186.5 sick days taken, 85 stress or mental health related (staff numbers not available)
  • 2007: total of 2,788 sick days taken, 164 stress or mental health related (staff numbers not available)
  • 2008: 16 sick days per staff member
  • 2009: 12 sick days per staff member (2.5 related to stress or mental health)
  • 2010: 11 sick days per staff member
  • 2011: 12 sick days per staff member
  • 2012: 14 sick days per staff member (3.5 related to stress or mental health)
  • 2013: 17 sick days per staff member
  • 2014: 16 sick days per staff member (3.9 related to stress or mental health)
  • 2015: 17 sick days per staff member
  • 2016: 9 sick days per staff member (2.3 related to stress or mental health)

(Figures are an average derived by dividing the total number of sick days by the number of employees for each year.)

A closer look at the figures

In 2008 and 2014, an average of 16 sick days were taken per employee of the National Museum, while in both 2013 and 2015, the average was 17.

Those figures are dramatically higher than the average number of sick days per public service worker, which have been decreasing since the government introduced the Public Service Sick Leave Scheme in 2013.

They’re also much higher than figures for private companies: according to The Small Firms Association’s Absenteeism Report 2015, businesses with less than 50 employees took 4.7 sick days per year, and larger businesses took 5.4 days.

2014 was the year with the highest number of stress-related sick days: 600 sick days were taken by a maximum of 154 employees due to stress or mental health-related illnesses.

The year with the lowest average number of sick days was 2016 – with 9 sick days per employee. Despite the number of overall sick days reducing in that year, however, the number of days taken off due to stress remains high at 364.

Looking at the figures over the past decade, the number of sick days taken at the National Museum due to stress or depression averages at between 1-4 days per person per year.

Over almost a decade, an average of 10% of the National Museum’s staff – 198 in 2008 to 158 in 2016 – have availed of counselling through the Museum’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

What’s being done?

From 2008 until 2011, clinical psychotherapist Stephanie Regan was hired to implement an EAP, to identify what was negatively affecting employees, which are commonly used by companies to promoting wellbeing in the workplace.

In 2010 she reported a trend of incidents of bullying and severe stress to management, and shortly afterwards was told that they were putting the role of EAP out to tender.

In 2012, Regan wrote to the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs to express her concern over the welfare of employees at the National Museum.

In that letter she described behaviour at the Museum as “very serious and disturbing”.

According to a letter released under an FOI, in 2013 the then-Acting Director of the National Museum Seamus Lynam defended the working environment at the National Museum:

“According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel, the take-up rate of an EAP service is around 10%.

In addition, the absenteeism rate in the Museum has remained fairly consistent over the last number of years and is in line with the absenteeism rates found in the wider public service.

Department officials replied to Regan to say that although that was a matter for the National Museum and not the Department, that they would make enquiries into “the serious financial/procurement issues and allegations” made.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys has said previously that allegations of bullying at the National Museum is ‘a HR issue’ and that it’s not the government’s place to get involved.

At a joint committee, questions asked of the director and chair of the Museum about what was being done to fix legacy issues ended abruptly after Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he was uncomfortable with the line of questioning.

Figures have also shown that eight official complaints of harassment, bullying and/or abuse at the National Museum have been made between 2005 and 2016.

The National Museum said they are working hard to ensure that the correct processes and controls are put in place.

They say that from 2011-2016, 15 people were out on long-term sick leave (defined as a period of three months or more) and six people took work-related stress leave (for one day or more) which contributed to the high absenteeism rates.

This article was updated on 30 May 2017 to include a statement from the National Museum of Ireland.

 

Read: A prolonged culture of bullying and stress: What’s going on at the National Museum of Ireland?

Read: National Museum ‘working hard to fix prolonged, systemic bullying of staff’

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