Employers have been urged to help to improve the workplace inclusion of staff with mental health issues by offering greater flexible working opportunities.

Yesterday (June 28th) saw the launch of the new Responsibility Deal – a voluntary scheme which sees signatories pledge to take steps to manage and support employees with mental health needs.

The initiative includes a guide for employers that outlines a number of measures they can take to make it easier for those who suffer a mental health problem to stay in employment.

At the forefront of this is a increased role for flexible working practices, including job sharing options and greater flexibility in working hours and shift patterns.

It also suggest allowing paid or unpaid leave for medical appointments and offering a phased return to work for those who take time off to deal with mental health problems.

Speaking at the launch of the scheme, 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.”

Figures suggest that one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives, while mental health issues currently cost the economy an estimated £105 billion and are the most common reason for incapacity benefit claims.

Commenting on the new scheme, Dame Carol Black, Chair of the Responsibility Deal health at work network, said it will lead to benefits for employers and staff alike.

“Thoughtful, well informed management in respect of employees’ mental and physical health can produce real benefits,” she said.

“Besides reduced sickness absence, those benefits include better staff engagement, improved productivity, and reduced staff turnover.”