A new commitment on health and wellbeing for the Civil Service

Head shot of Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones, Head of the Government Legal Service and Civil Service Health and Well-Being Champion

Since taking on the role of Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Champion last September, I’ve heard from many of you about what you think can make a difference to our health and wellbeing, inside and outside work. Your views and suggestions have helped to shape my own priorities as champion.

A year ago, John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service, outlined the vision for ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’. We can only realise our ambition to be part of the best Civil Service in the world if we work in an environment that supports our wellbeing and helps us to look after our own health. We are at our most productive and fully engaged at work when we are healthy, happy and feel able to be ourselves.

We’ve just held the second Civil Service Physical Activity Week, when we asked you to consider increasing your activity levels by making a few small changes or taking part in some fun activities with friends and family. I want to build on this and the other great work on health and wellbeing happening across the Civil Service and within departments, including actions on mental health, workplace adjustments and a healthy lifestyle.

We should be ambitious. To help guide action, I have identified five priorities for health and wellbeing in the Civil Service.

Commitment to Civil Service health and wellbeing graphic

1. Provide visible leadership for health and wellbeing

Creating a Civil Service culture that recognises the importance of health and wellbeing, and builds it into everyday decisions about how work is organised and change is managed, is crucial. I want to see leaders at every level ensuring that this happens. Each main department now has a senior health and wellbeing champion and I will be working with them to implement this agenda and make sure things happen on the ground.

We’ve been holding practical sessions at Civil Service Live on building resilience and managing stress. I want to see us doing more to increase capability in these areas across the Civil Service.

We will also look at what more we can do to ensure managers are supported in their roles in a way that promotes health and wellbeing in the workplace. We already have some new products on the Civil Service Learning website and are making sure you can access easy-to-read guidance on a range of health and wellbeing issues, including links to helpful websites.

2. Encourage an open dialogue leading to action on mental health

We know that one in four people will be affected by a mental health problem this year, yet there is still a reluctance to openly discuss this issue. As a result, too many people suffer in silence and don’t get the help they need. I want to create a culture that encourages you to talk about any mental health issues you may have, whilst equipping your manager to respond.

Senior leaders including Rupert McNeil, our Chief People Officer are already talking openly about their mental health experiences. I want this to be part of a greater openness so that those of you experiencing mental health problems receive support at the earliest stage. We can then make sure you get the help you need, whether from Mental Health First Aiders or their equivalent, Employee Assistance Programme advisers or Occupational Health.

3. Promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle

I want us to create a working environment that promotes physical activity and healthy eating.

We all know that physical activity has general health benefits but it also helps in preventing and treating musculoskeletal problems. We are going to build on Physical Activity Week and do some work to see how we can help those of you who are office-based to move more during the working day.

4. Promote national wellbeing campaigns

I want to make sure that you have information about issues that may affect you and where you can get more help and advice. We will be promoting campaigns such as One You and the free NHS health checks for those aged 40 to 74 available in England, together with similar initiatives in other parts of the UK.

I will also be supporting activities organised by departments. In May I highlighted Mental Health Awareness Week and the benefits of being physically active. Thanks to all of you who took part or supported the Charity for Civil Servants Walking Challenge. You walked an incredible 563,353 miles, raising over £25,000 for this good cause.

5. Support people to stay at work or return to work

Finally, I want to ensure that those of you with health issues have the support, guidance and access to services you need at the right time.

I will work with departments to ensure you receive support from your manager and Occupational Health to help you back to work if you have a health problem. We will also continue to develop the help provided if you need a workplace adjustment through the Central Workplace Adjustment Service. This can help with adjustments for mental as well as physical health problems.

New award

This year we have also introduced a new Health and Wellbeing category in the annual Civil Service Awards. The recipient will be a team or individual that has made a significant contribution to promoting or improving health and wellbeing within the Civil Service, helping to make it a great place to work. Nominations close on 21 July.

'A great place to work' logoWe can only create a healthy, happy and productive workforce if we work together. You should hear from your senior health and wellbeing champion shortly about the action they and your department are undertaking on these priorities.

I’d love to get your further thoughts and suggestions on how we can take these priorities forward. You can post them below or send them to


  1. Gordon Hodgson

    Thank you Jonathan!

    I know my colleagues in the Cross-Government Mental Health Network would like to work with you to achieve these objectives.

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  2. Mark

    Jonathan, why doesn't your priorities for health and wellbeing include tackling bullying in the Civil Service?

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    • Jonathan Jones

      Hello Mark and thank you for your question.

      We know that experience of bullying, harassment and discrimination (BHD) is one of the many factors that make an impact on how people feel in the workplace. The Civil Service is committed to tackling BHD and building an inclusive culture. The reason bullying isn't specifically mentioned within the five priorities is that there is a dedicated work programme led by Civil Service HR aimed at tackling BHD.

      We are working on a number of areas to build a more inclusive culture and an environment where it is safe to challenge. Actions we are taking forward include ensuring clear accountability for inclusion in SCS objectives, roll-out of training to raise awareness of micro-behaviours and personal impact, and conducting further research to ensure we fully understand the issues that are leading to people experiencing BHD.

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  3. John Smith

    Fair pay for all is essential to wellbeing - why isn't this being addressed?

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  4. Nick

    If this is important then why do HMRC's new regional centres not have gyms on site?

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  5. JuliaM

    "I want us to create a working environment that promotes physical activity and healthy eating."

    This has lead to canteens on government premises taking actions such as offering only smaller bags of crisps and 'low cal' drinks. Will you be revising this policy in the light of new evidence?

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  6. Jannette Backhouse

    Hi Jonathan
    Just to reiterate what Nick said on the 14.7.17. If health & wellbeing is so important to HMRC why are no Regional Centres getting a gym!
    I for one & many others enjoy having a gym in the building & use it regularly, however when we move a lot of staff will have a much longer work day due to extra travel to offices & now will have to spend more time travelling to a gym separate from our place of work.
    There is also a lot of gym equipment that will go to waste.

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  7. Donald Spivey

    Thank you Jonathan for setting out these priorities. I'm in the FCO and we are fortunate to have an active Wellbeing Network and some excellent work going on around building a safe and supportive environment in which we can discuss mental health issues openly. As a mental health first aider myself I am encouraged every time a colleague shows an interest in learning more about mental health issues. It is important that people feel able to talk to someone in their workplace, and that they know where to seek help when they feel it is needed.

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  8. Gavin Thomas

    Thank you Jonathan for promoting a very important topic. Like Donald, I am a member of the FCO Wellbeing Network and we have been proactive in seeking to increase both awareness and understanding about mental health.

    Like Donald, I have been encouraged by the level of interest that we have received and the level of support at all levels within the FCO. a most recent example of this was Sir Simon McDonald the PUS who wrote a blog on the importance of Wellbeing.

    We have also seen this year people like Donald willing to step up and be trained as Mental Health First Aiders, so that they have they are able support colleagues when the need has arisen.

    I would agree with your 3rd priority and the Wellbeing Network has worked closely with the FCO Gym in encouraging staff to set aside time to participate in exercise or to simply take a daily walk through St James Park. We also recently had Hannah Knights, UK 400m Hurdle Runner come into the FCO to give a talk about the importance of a healthy diet.

    I very much welcome the Cross - Government Mental Health initiative. I hope that it will encourage colleagues to be more open about how they are feeling and that Managers and colleagues will be more supportive when the need arises.

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  9. Kevin

    Having suffered from mental illness for quite some time, and having line managers who either don't care or don't understand or believe there is no such thing as mental illness. I believe there should be mandatory training sessions for all line managers, particularly in MOD.

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    • Gordon Hodgson

      I agree 100%, Kevin! I hope the Cross-Government Mental Health Network will be a good way of helping this to happen.

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  10. Zoe

    I would like to raise one point, why are there no contact numbers on any of the webpages relating to mental illness or wellbeing. All the pages talk about what is being down, what is going to be in place but no information for how to receive help/support for people who need it now.
    My colleague is suffering with mental illness and isn't getting any support - What can she do to receive help?

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  11. Mark Trow

    I've noticed greater prominence for the issue of Workplace Wellbeing in the past 12 months and wondered whether it might be a good idea to introduce this subject into the People's Survey with a couple of questions:- QUESTION: My wellbeing at work has been supported by my Line Manager(s). SUGGESTED ANSWERS (tick one): Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree. QUESTION: If you have received a good experience, please provide some details so that this best practice can be shared across the Department. QUESTION: If you have received a bad experience, please provide some details so that we can learn lessons and plan to improve in this area.
    What is the impact of this idea
    1. Its a temperature check of seeing how we are performing in this important area of colleague wellfare; 2. By asking for evidence of experiences both good and bad, we stand a good chance of collecting some real experiences and important evidence towards improving things. So often in the past when Departments have sought to analyse and correct the poorer performance areas highlighted by these surveys, there is no real evidence to examine and the discussion becomes one of wild speculation about what really lurks behind the bald statistics and percentages. This is particularly true of the "Bullying" question, closely aligned to Wellbeing, which always seems to high, quite often increases but senior managers fail to get to grips with. 3. By being a transparent set of questions in the survey, it shows that the Department cares and wants to know the facts so that cultural/organisational changes can be made. Staff who feel that they have been let down will hopefully see this as supportive and those who have had a good experience will welcome the opportunity to feed those experiences into a movement for change.
    What are the possible benefits of this idea
    As in "Impact" above but I would also add that other tangential benefits might be improved attendance and greater effectiveness of teams and individuals.

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