Permanent secretaries' objectives for the 2018-19 financial year are to be revised so they link to staff wellbeing and the implementation of mental health core standards.
The civil service pledged last year to adopt the standards set out in a government-commissioned review of mental health in the workplace, including to produce a mental health at work plan and to routinely monitor employee wellbeing.
The permanent secretary objectives, first published in 2012-13 and most recently in 2015-16, form the basis for the performance management of Whitehall’s departmental leaders.
Jackie Doyle-Price, minister for mental health and inequalities, revealed that the change will be made during the Public Sector Summit on Work, Health and Disability, organised by the Local Government Association and held in Westminster yesterday.
She told delegates that the civil service is committed to leading the way on mental health and to “delivering a lasting cultural change”.
“We understand that in order to deliver lasting change, this behaviour has to start from the top of the organisation,” she added. “So as a consequence, permanent secretary performance objectives for 2018-19 are being revised to link to staff wellbeing and the core mental health standards.”
Doyle-Price also pointed to the civil service Wellbeing Confident Leaders training scheme, launched earlier this year, which she said will be rolled out to 90% of senior leaders by the end of 2019. The first Mental Health in the Civil Service conference was held last month.
She added that “this agenda is being enthusiastically championed by senior leaders across the civil service, including chief executive John Manzoni”.
The 2015-16 permanent secretary objectives were criticised by the Institute for Government think tank, which said there were too many of them, they were inconsistent across departments and published too late in the year.
Objectives relating to diversity were included for the first time in 2015-16.
Yesterday’s summit, attended by senior figures from government departments and arm’s-length bodies, aimed to enable public sector employers to share best practice about the recruitment and retention of people with health conditions and disabilities.
It was supposed to include a keynote speech from Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people, health and work, but she was unable to attend. She was replaced by civil servant Angus Gray, deputy director of the Work and Health Unit, a cross-government unit that works to develop solutions to benefit disabled people, which is jointly sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care.
He said that it was particularly important for the public sector to embrace the agenda of supporting more disabled people into work, because its workforce needs to be representative of the people It serves.
He also said the challenges will become more acute as the ageing population means that more people develop health conditions while still employed, and will need to be supported to stay in their jobs.
In November 2017 the Work and Health Unit published a report, Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability. It outlined actions to be taken within the welfare system, by employers and in health services, to help meet the government’s target of one million more disabled people in work by 2027.
The unit, Gray said, is increasingly focusing on efforts to help disabled people stay in work, or return to work after a period of unemployment. Around 300,000 people lose their jobs each year due to a health condition or disability.
It is also looking at occupational health, and ensuring that employers have access to the “critical” specialist advice of occupational health services.
Gray said that for organisations that have that provision, “the question is, are we getting the most from it, do managers know how to use it, is it any good or did we just buy one because we knew we should have one… do we know what their added value is?”.
Another area the unit has been focusing on is in making best use of the Social Value Act, Gray added. Organisations in the public sector can do more “to push our supply chains when we’re contracting to and conducting procurements… [so] we can use that as a lever to make sure other organisations are also doing the right thing on this agenda but also on others of social importance”.
“That’s potentially massively important,” he added.