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SME bosses put chatting about weather before addressing staff mental health, Bupa report shows

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More than a quarter of small business owners in the UK do not feel confident they would be able to recognise and address ill health, stress or depression among their staff, according to Bupa research.

It is estimated that mental health problems such as stress cost the UK economy £26 billion a yearin absence, presenteeism and staff turnover, and in a small business environment, absence can create additional stress for those employees left picking up the additional workload.

Just under a quarter of small business owners (24%) confess they would rather not speak to anyone about a problem raised by an employee than seek professional advice on how to deal with it.

It seems that many employers feel that this is an invasion of privacy - the most commonly cited reason for not addressing staff health anxieties.

The research showed that one in three bosses (30%) believe it is 'none of their business' to get involved in the situation. Despite this, absence due to work-related stress remains a problem for UK business, with 10.8 million working days lost in 2010/11, according to figures from independent health watchdog, HSE

More than half (55%) stated they regularly discuss the weather with an employee but only one in four (27%) would discuss an employee's health, sparking concern that employers do not feel well-equipped to tackle these trickier, personal conversations.

Jenny Leeser, clinical director of occupational health at Bupa, said: "If health issues such as stress are not addressed, employees suffering in silence can lead to small issues becoming bigger problems in the long term and ultimately affecting productivity.

"Nobody expects bosses to solve all of a person's issues but there may be adjustments that really help, such as altering hours on a temporary basis. All companies have a health & safety policy, so why not a stress and mental health policy too?"

With two in five (41%) small business owners admitting they never speak to employees about their physical or mental health, Bupa has launched a new service, Bupa Stress Management, to help business owners to identify the symptoms of workplace stress, raise issues with staff, and design and implement their own stress management policy.

The service has been launched to help employers who are reluctant to discuss stress concerns with employees.