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Civil Service

A new commitment on health and wellbeing for the Civil Service

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A Brilliant Civil Service, Civil Service Leaders, Health & Wellbeing
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.

'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

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  1. Comment by Paul posted on

    Jonathan, I would be very interested to read a response from you to Andy's post above?

    In the 'real world', staff have extreme difficulty receiving a fair hearing and having Reasonable Adjustments put in place. As Andy indicates, Government departments are quite happy to employ staff with disabilities, as long as this does not 'impact on the business' and does not create 'too much work' for disinterested managers. You refer to John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service, outlining a year ago his vision for ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’. Only a few weeks ago, Mr Manzoni (who receives a considerable salary, in excess of our current PM) also stated that 'there was no more money' available for compensation to Civil Servants who were facing redundancy. This highlights the 'them & us' culture, where senior staff in head offices are very well compensated, but staff on sites across the UK are not - and the same applies to staff with disablities to are seeking support. If you are located in a Head Office, particularly in London, your access to support will be completely different to that in a customer facing Jobcentre, or local HMRC or MOD site, as examples. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, so ALL staff receive the same support, regardless of job role, grade (particularly 'grade') or location.

  2. Comment by Andy posted on

    Helen Hunt: I so agree with all you say. You are definately not on your own in the situation that you find yourself in. I have given well over 30 years of my best to HMRC with the last 10 of those years a constant battle against senior management simply to keep my job. Yes HMRC want to employ people with disablilties, but they want "Perfectly healthy" disabled people. You must not have time off!
    AND Trigger days? You'll be lucky. 'Business needs' can not stand the extra day away.
    Then the battle for Reasonable Adjustments as well: A simple desk raise please...."Oh no no no. Not possible." And this is even if OH demand it. Wellbing? Where is it truly? TRY TAKING IT FULLPOWER TO THE WORKFLOOR INSTEAD OF PLAYING WITH IT THE PLUSH LONDON OFFICES.

  3. Comment by Paul posted on

    I completely agree with Juilie's comment about standing adjustable desks. As highlighted by Julie, these have many health benefits and are better than sitting for long periods. I asked about these within my DWP site & researched options for the types of standing desk available. Even with the cheapest cost option (which, in fact, was one of the best items of this type of furniture, which could easily convert from sitting to standing options), I was informed these were 'too expensive'. In fact, given how much DWP spends as a whole on staffing, these desks were very good value and much cheaper then the alternative of staff having to be away from work with back issues - which, as we all know, can take some time to correct (if at all....). I received the impression that it was more a case of no-one was interested in pursuing as an option.

  4. Comment by Julie Smith posted on

    It is a well known fact that sitting all day has detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing and exacerbates current health problems. I am aware that many government departments have standing adjustable desks. Will the DWP be able to obtain such desks? There are many benefits to a standing desk.
    1. Standing Lowers Your Risk of Weight Gain and Obesity
    2. Using a Standing Desk May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
    3. Standing May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
    4. Standing Desks Appear to Reduce Back Pain
    5. Standing Desks Help Improve Mood and Energy Levels
    6. Standing Desks May Even Boost Productivity
    7. Standing More May Help You Live Longer

  5. Comment by Laurie posted on

    I am concerned disabled colleagues maybe disadvantaged re. any travel to new Centres.

  6. Comment by Paul posted on

    An end to the 1% pay cap and a reinstatement of pay progression would help the health and wellbeing of a lot of staff!

  7. Comment by Mark Trow posted on

    JONATHAN: As a postscript to my comment of 21.07.2017, above, I've just received a message from my own Department's HR Team to say that, although they like my idea of adding a question to the People Survey, they are unable to do so because of the need for consistency in the survey content across all Departments. Each Department is permitted a certain number of "local questions" but, let's face it, a question on wellbeing was never going to fit that definition. They aim to use these questions as part of internal "Pulse Surveys" in 2018. If these questions are going to be included in the all-Civil Service People Survey, I wondered whether I could count on your support, please. Regards, -Mark Trow (HMRC)

    • Replies to Mark Trow>

      Comment by Ewen McKinnon, Well-Being Policy and Analysis, Cabinet Office posted on

      Thank you for your suggestion on new People Survey questions. I'm responding on behalf of Jonathan Jones as I am supporting him on this issue. You raise an excellent point about the important role of line managers in supporting the well-being of their teams. We already ask a number of related questions about good supportive line management and we are committed to asking new questions on staff well-being to improve our evidence base. As you might expect there is a robust process for this and we look to rigorously test questions before putting them in the core survey. We have completed our process for this year’s survey and are looking to test a question on how supportive line managers are on mental health – which relates to your suggestion. However, there are other opportunities to test broader questions on line manager support, for example in departmental pulse surveys, and given the importance we will be actively considering this.

      On the other questions you suggest regarding best practice. We already ask a wider open question about how to make the workplace better. In addition you should be reassured that departments regularly meet to discuss and share best practice on well-being and to co-ordinate joint action. These meetings happen at both a working level and a senior champion level and are an excellent vehicle for achieving the same aim you set out. You might also be interested that we have used People Survey data to steer the development of case studies of good practice around well-being - you can see the details here.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts in this.

  8. Comment by Kevin posted on

    I think you're spot on Mark.

    There is significant evidence from the annual People Surveys linking staff well-being to bullying/harrasment/discrimination but there seems to be no clear mechanism for measuring this.

    How are allegations of BHD recorded?
    How are management actions in relation to BHD recorded?
    How are outcomes of appeals/grievances related to BHD recorded?
    How can BHD be properly identified when perpetrators hide behind 'policy and guidance' to justify actions and defer accountability?

    While there is definitely scope for greater line management 'confidence' and empowerment to move beyond a mechanistic approach, that requires managers to understand their own accountability for their decision making and I suspect very few relish that prospect.

    Meantime, people such as those in the blog with mental health conditions (often made worse by workplace stressors) will continue to be on the receiving end of automated disciplinary sanctions and threat of removal from their jobs.

    This unwellbeing is very far from brilliant.

    • Replies to Kevin>

      Comment by Andrew Hay, CS Employee Policy posted on

      It is important that all employees feel respected and treated fairly within the workplace and the Civil Service has a zero tolerance to any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination (BHD).

      Management Information can provide invaluable insight into where BHD is more or less prevalent and how it is being addressed. Most information is held within departments but where the CSHR Casework Service is involved data is also collated centrally. This will help us collectively share best practice and inform future planning. We are also looking at ways in which we can capture external insight and learning around BHD.

      CS Employee Policy recently launched a toolkit to help organisations, managers and teams to tackle BHD by building more inclusive cultures, in which people are clear what behaviours are expected and confident in challenging unacceptable behaviours.

      Other initiatives include developing an expanded SCS people objective, to place a stronger focus on inclusivity – both individually, and within teams/organisations.

  9. Comment by vince parker posted on

    I am involved at Crown House Wolverhampton with Health and Wellbeing, we are trying to organise an event to obviously highlight the options that we have to help ourselves to improve quality of life. Unfortunately it appears HMRC as fare as I am aware will not allow time and there is no budget to accommodate even the most modest event. So if some one can correct me and point me in the direction of help, so that we can do what it appears HMRC wants, that is to be seen to promote Health and Wellbeing, I am sure my colleagues would be grateful.

  10. Comment by Helen Hunt posted on

    I stumbled across this today but reading it makes me very sad as it is all too late for me. My 28 year career where I was regularly recognised as a high performing manager recently coming to an end due to my "inefficiency". The reason; finally cracking after years coping with an unrealistic workload and unreasonable management behaviour. I made the mistake of raising a complaint of bullying which in turn led to me being victimised. Opportunities to support my return to work were ignored whilst those I had complained about closed ranks to protect their own interests. I am staggered by the lack of support I received and the lack of interest in the HO anti-bullying policy. So here I am on the scrap heap at 47 waiting to hear if I qualify for Ill Health Retirement whilst preparing my Personal Injury claim. I doubt you will publish this. You will probably assume I am just a disgruntled member of staff with an axe to grind. That may well be the case, with good reason, but I truly hope lessons are being learnt and that others will not have to go through what I have had to go through in the last three years. Maybe the work you are doing will make a difference though I fear it may just be another box ticking exercise unless there is a genuine effort to ensure senior managers are following procedures in an unbiased and effective manner.

  11. Comment by Mark Trow posted on

    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.

  12. Comment by Zoe posted on

    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?

    • Replies to Zoe>

      Comment by Gordon Hodgson posted on

      Zoe, this will be different depending on the organisation. If you email me on, I'll see how I can help.

    • Replies to Zoe>

      Comment by David Widlake posted on

      Zoe, the first port of call for your colleague may be the Occupational Health Scheme in the organisation. Details should be on your intranet if you have one. Additionally The Charity for Civil Servants aims to support the emotional wellbeing of current, former and retired civil servants.

      By using their resources individuals will be able to decide where to go for advice, information and practical help. Managers are provided with links to organisations and information to help them to support their staff:

  13. Comment by Kevin posted on

    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.

    • Replies to Kevin>

      Comment by Gordon Hodgson posted on

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

  14. Comment by helen posted on

    With the closures of local offices and the opening of these big fancy regional centres I am a disabled person will be well and truly stuffed! I cant go on a train due to my nerve condition and there is not likely to be any disabled parking. and I cant walk any distance! so how is that promoting your idea of keeping people who have been ill in work and helping disabled people stay in work

    • Replies to helen>

      Comment by Civil Service Blog posted on

      Thank you for you comment, we have been in touch with HMRC colleagues about this. An important part of the preparation for any move to a Regional Centre is a one-to-one discussion with your manager which explores whether you are within or outside of reasonable daily travel of the new office and what support you may need to help you make the journey. The one-to-one also provides an opportunity to discuss what reasonable adjustments you may need in terms of the move. Your manager will also have access to expert advice from the Reasonable Adjustment Support Team, Health and Safety Advisers and Civil Service HR Caseworkers to help identify and supply the adjustments you need. The availability of car parking will depend on which Regional Centre your work is moving to. You can also ask Access to Work if they can help with assisted travel such as by taxi. No-one can guarantee that all your needs can be met, though HMRC people will certainly try very hard to support you.

  15. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    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.

  16. Comment by Donald Spivey posted on

    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.

  17. Comment by Jannette Backhouse posted on

    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.

    • Replies to Jannette Backhouse>

      Comment by Harjinder Randhawa (HMRC, BoF Locations, Stakeholder Engagement Team) posted on

      Sorry for the delay in replying on this point. We won’t have gyms on site as standard in our regional centres, but, working with HR, we’re looking at providing a deal for all colleagues to obtain discounted membership for gyms across the UK. If, after our design work for a Regional Centre is complete, we still have amenity space available, then we’ll consult with colleagues on how to use it – and this could include converting it for gym facilities. But we don’t think it’s likely this will be an option in most regional centres.

  18. Comment by JuliaM posted on

    "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?

  19. Comment by Nick posted on

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

  20. Comment by John Smith posted on

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

  21. Comment by Mark posted on

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

    • Replies to Mark>

      Comment by Jonathan Jones posted on

      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.

  22. Comment by Gordon Hodgson posted on

    Thank you Jonathan!

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