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The health of employees is a growing concern for HR, or it should be, due to the obvious impact that health has on sickness levels, productivity and ultimately on attrition. Interestingly, recent research in social psychology has identified causal links between mental health issues and the flexibility of people’s work schedules. 
The onset of poor mental health presents employees with a number of very limited options. If there is not flexibility in their work schedule, the usual result is a high cost for both the employee and the employer. Companies often end up paying extended sickness and the employee may lose confidence to do their job. The fundamental question is, how can we ensure that flexible working can help people when they experience mental health issues? 
Changing Hours 
A long commute to work combined with long hours of presenteeism, can have a detrimental impact on the psychological contract with employees. This stressful part at the beginning and end of a working day can easily be changed with a more flexible approach. A simple change to working from home or re-configuring working hours to start early or later can bring big benefits. Compressing hours or for that matter a temporary reduction of hours, whilst someone recovers from a health issue, can have a great impact on the employee experience and the reputation of the employer in the recruitment market. A few small simple changes can provide big benefits for any company as well as employees, it’s a ‘win-win’ situation. 
Changing jobs within a company 
The ability of employees to move internally into another business area or role, where they can reduce the immediate demands of the job, whilst transferring their skills to another department, may provide space for the employee to recover. This can be a temporary measure with the creation of a specific project, or it could be a longer-term solution that may be the best option for a talented employee whose life has changed, due to mental or other health issues. This flexibility may be challenging in an SME, therefore employers need to think carefully about changing hours or reducing tasks temporarily during the recovery period. 
Changing Mindsets 
This is definitely the biggest area that employers need to focus on, as creating a culture of curiosity instead of judgement, will allow talented employees to admit that they are experiencing mental health issues and give them confidence to seek help rather than simply leaving the company. This can be done by identifying the key influencers, (not always leadership) and getting them on-board to help changing people’s mindsets on mental health. Small simple changes in flexible working can provide big benefits for an employee’s health and if this issue is approached professionally by an employer, reputation in the market can be greatly enhanced. You would be ‘mad’ not to look at it! 
About The Author 
Wendy C Macartney MSc FCIPD helps companies to improve their employee experience and help employers understand the business benefits of flexible and smart working. https://www.linkedin.com/in/wendy-carey-macartney-fcipd-672b9b16/ 
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