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Workplace mental health is costing the economy millions but social taboos prevent businesses from taking action, finds UK-wide research

By Sandra Villanueva
Senior Media Relations Manager

Businesses risk losing millions if they don’t work to address mental health in the workplace, but many are still not equipped to handle these issues, according to research commission by QBE Business Insurance to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The stark findings revealed that one in three senior UK business leaders believe that employees should not discuss mental health issues in the workplace, while one in five say they would not want to hire someone with a declared mental illness.

A reluctance to employ people with mental ill health increases to one in four managers in larger companies with more than 1,000 employees.

The other key findings are:

 More than a quarter of managers admit that they do not know how to deal with employees’ mental health issues

  • 43% have received no formal mental health training
  • 39% say they would not want to disclose a mental health issue to a colleague
  • A quarter do not feel supported in managing their own mental wellbeing
  • Just one in four say their business is open about mental health issues, rising to 34% of managers in small businesses

While the research reveals sensitivity, uncertainty and ignorance about mental illness at work, there is agreement among managers on the need for action to manage workplace stress, with 45% of managers in larger companies saying their business needs to do more. There is an appetite among all managers (71%) for more training on how to deal with employees' mental health issues.

Grant Clemence, Director of Underwriting and Mental Health champion at QBE Business Insurance, said “The mental wellbeing of employees is an area businesses need to take more responsibility for. Our ‘always on’ culture can put immense pressure on individuals, which, compounded with demands in their personal lives, can really take a toll on their mental health and result in a person who is not functioning at their best.”

The research was carried out by Opinium in an online survey of 502 UK senior decision makers. While there is a stronger reluctance among younger managers (36%) to discuss mental health issues at work against 21% of managers over 55, three out of four of all managers accept that workplace stress can lead to mental illness if left unmanaged.

Almost two out of five believe that stress in the workplace is inevitable and out of employers’ control, but three out of four believe that employers have a responsibility to tackle workplace stress.

To help avoid some of the risks as a result of mental health issues, businesses should consider providing better support to line managers and staff to be more open and inclusive in the workplace.

Grant Clemence continues “Our research highlights the stigma that prevails around mental health in the workplace. The majority of Senior Managers want the tools and training to support themselves and their teams and yet at the same time a large number don’t believe it’s an issue that should be discussed in the workplace. That absolutely needs to change and a key way to do that is to create a work environment where it is okay to talk about mental health.”

A recent government-commissioned study* estimated that mental health illness costs the economy nearly £99bn a year. A fact which Grant Clemence says “should focus the mind of business leaders and encourage them to take this issue seriously.”

Grant Clemence continues “Almost 16 million work days a year are lost as a result of mental ill health which is a significant productivity risk for businesses. There is also the potential liability exposure to consider if employees are masking mental health issues that could compromise their performance. Employee wellbeing should form part of a company’s holistic risk assessment with processes in place to manage the associated risks.”

QBE has produced a guide to best practice for dealing with mental ill health in the workplace, which recommends ways of identifying and preventing mental ill health at work and a series of actions including:

  • Early intervention with struggling employees to ensure they have access to the right support when they need it
  • Explicit and high profile discussion of mental health within a business and the various challenges employees and their managers can face
  • The provision of mental health training to people managers to help them identify signs of a colleague struggling to cope
  • Flexible working arrangements

Opinium conducted the online research on 11-17 April among 502 senior decision makers in UK business of all sizes, excluding sole traders.

*Thriving at Work: a Review of Mental Health and Employers

For further information contact:

Sandra Villanueva, Senior Media Relations Manager, QBE, +44 (0)20 7105 5284

About QBE

QBE European Operations is part of QBE Insurance Group, one of the world’s leading international insurers and reinsurers and Standard & Poor’s A+ rated. Listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, QBE’s gross written premium for the year ended 31 December 2017, was US$14.1 billion.

As a business insurance specialist, QBE European Operations offers a range of insurance products from the standard suite of property, casualty and motor to the specialist financial lines, marine and energy. All are tailored to the individual needs of our small, medium and large client base.

We understand the crucial role that effective risk management plays in all organisations and work hard to understand our clients’ businesses so that we offer insurance solutions that meet their needs – from complex programmes to simpler e-trading solutions – and support them in minimising their risk exposures. Our expert risk management and rehabilitation practitioners focus on helping clients improve their risk management so that they may benefit from a reduction in claims frequency and costs.

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Your contact

Sandra Villanueva

Sandra Villanueva

Head of Media Relations & Content, QBE International