Department of Health and Social Care
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Employers urged to offer flexible working to support mental health needs

Thousands of individuals with mental health needs could be offered more flexible working under a new initiative launched by Health Minister Lord Howe.

Speaking at the launch at the Work Foundation, Lord Howe set out how leading companies including manufacturing umbrella body EEF, EDF Energy have signed up to a new Responsibility Deal pledge to help manage and support employees with mental health needs in the best way possible.

The approach, which has been developed as part of a new health and work pledge, is set out in a simple guide that includes suggestions such as:

  • taking a flexible approach to start/finish times and shift patterns;
  • allowing paid or unpaid leave for medical appointments;
  • offering a phased return to work;
  • providing a quiet space for breaks; and
  • offering job sharing. 

One in four people experience a mental heath problem at some point in their lives. Poor mental health currently costs the economy an estimated £105 billion and is the most common reason for incapacity benefit claims.

Speaking at the launch, Health Minister Lord Howe said:

“A good working environment is crucial for our wellbeing – and it can help aid the recovery of mental health conditions. However, stigma and lack of understanding means many remain unemployed or underutilised. This Responsibility Deal pledge will help employers think through the simple steps they can make to help.”

Chair of the Responsibility Deal health at work network, Dame Carol Black said:

“At any time, one in six adults will be experiencing a mental health condition.  Most of these people are of working age and are in employment.  Mental health conditions costUKbusinesses £8.4 billion in sickness absence and a further £15.1 billion in lost productivity.

“For business, economic and moral reasons, it is therefore important that employers play their part in supporting people with such conditions to retain their jobs, and when they are absent in enabling them to return to work as soon as they can.

“Thoughtful, well informed management in respect of employees’ mental and physical health can produce real benefits.  Besides reduced sickness absence those benefits include better staff engagement, improved productivity, and reduced staff turnover. Making small workplace adjustments to enable an employee to continue doing their job can be more rewarding and far less expensive than the cost of recruiting and training a new employee.”

Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at the Work Foundation Professor Stephen Bevan, who helped to develop the pledge, said:

“Employers should be aware that everyone’s experience of mental ill health is different – so two people with a diagnosis of depression may have very different symptoms and need different adjustments when returning to work. This may seem complex, but often the employee themselves will be the expert on their condition and know their own support needs.

“Employers need to have an open, honest and practical conversation with the person about how their mental health condition impacts their work and what adjustments can be made. It’s important to focus on what the person can do – not what they can’t.”

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  1. For further information, contact the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5281
  2. For more information about the Responsibility Deal visit
  3. The companies who have signed up to the pledge are EDF Energy,  the manufacturing umbrella body EEF, dairy company Roddas, The Work Foundation, contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell, The Charity for Civil Servants as well as the Centre for Mental Health, the Christie NHS Foundation Trust and the Department of Health.
  4. The first signatories have committed to: ‘embed the principles of the Mental Health Workplace Adjustments Guide within HR procedures to ensure that people with mental health conditions are managed at work in the best way possible with reasonable flexibilities and workplace adjustments.’
  5. The 2010 Equality Act outlines an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, including mental health conditions, to help them gain or keep employment. Most adjustments cost nothing and according to The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the average cost is just £75.
  6. The pledge and guidance was developed by a group, lead by Professor Stephen Bevan of the Work Foundation, and including several other key organisations, including the Centre for Mental Health, Mind, JobCentre Plus, Leicester Fit for Work Service, NHS Confederation, Civil Service Benevolence Fund, Prospect – as well as the companies PwC, GSK, EDF Energy and EEF.
  7. The group consulted widely with key organisations, including charities such asMIND, professional associations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists and large companies with experience in this area, such as BT.

The Golden Thread: A study of the contribution of the project profession to the UK’s economy