Workplace social taboos about mental health are hurting businesses while managers remain aloof


A study by QBE suggests workplace mental health is being neglected because management still view it as taboo.

One in three senior UK business leaders surveyed (29%) believed employees should not discuss mental health issues in the workplace.

One in five (19%) said they would not want to hire someone with a declared mental illness.

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

“The mental wellbeing of employees is an area that businesses need to take more responsibility for,” said Grant Clemence, director of underwriting and mental health champion at QBE Business Insurance.

A recent UK government-commissioned study estimated that mental health illness costs the economy nearly £99bn a year.

“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,” Clemence added.

The research was commissioned by QBE Business Insurance to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. Survey firm Opinium conducted the online research in April among 502 senior decision-makers in UK businesses.

Other findings included that: more than a quarter (28%) of managers admitted they do not know how to deal with employees’ mental health issues; some 43% have received no mental health training; and 26% said they would not want to disclose a mental health issue to a colleague.

Just one in four (23%) said their business was open about mental health issues, rising to 39% of managers in large businesses with more than 1,000 employees.

There was some acknowledgment more should be done: 45% of managers in larger companies said their business should do more; and 71% said they would benefit from more training on dealing with employees’ mental health issues.

Younger managers were among the least likely to discuss mental health issues at work, 36%, compared with 21% of managers over 55.

However, some three out of four of all managers accepted workplace stress can lead to mental illness if left unmanaged.

Almost two out of five (38%) believed stress in the workplace is inevitable and out of employers’ control, but three out of four (77%) believed employers have a responsibility to tackle workplace stress.

“Our research highlights the stigma that prevails around mental health in the workplace,” said Clemence.

“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,” he said.

“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,” Clemence added.

QBE has produced a guide to best practice for dealing with mental ill health in the workplace.