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Attitudes among SMEs towards mental ill health ‘changing for the better’

  • 40% of SME employees have taken time off work because of mental ill health
  • 45% of SMEs say attitudes to mental ill health have ‘changed for the better’; only 7% feel the opposite 
  • 38% of company bosses have seen an increase in the number of employees reporting mental health issues in the last three years

While the impact of mental ill health continues to be felt across the SME community, with four in every 10 firms admitting that at least one of their employees has taken time off work because of it, attitudes are changing for the better.

Only 7% of SMEs are of the view that feelings towards those suffering from mental ill health is becoming worse, against 45% who say it’s changing for the better. In addition, 38% of SMEs have noted an increase in reporting of mental health issues over the last three years.

The figures were obtained from the latest independent research of 933 UK SMEs commissioned by Close Brothers Asset Finance and conducted by Lightspeed, a specialist research firm, in August and September 2019.

Regionally, London-based firms had the highest rate of mental health-related absence, at 65% (UK: 40%), while from a sector perspective, Engineering (52%), Manufacturing (51%) and Construction (47%) all trended above the UK average.

“It’s encouraging that it’s becoming increasingly accepted for employees to admit to mental ill health and to ask for – and be given - time off,” said Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance. “But what these results also demonstrate is the impact it has on the UK’s productivity and competitiveness.

“One would expect; however, that as the stigma around the issue continues to dissipate and seeking help to cope becomes normalised, the social and economic impact will lessen over time.”

Awareness

Over half (56%) of firms polled have taken steps to actively raise awareness of mental ill health among employees, with firms at the larger end of the scale firms particularly proactive. At 70%, Engineering firms are the most likely to have awareness programmes in place, along with those in London (77%).

Policies

Around a third (32%) of firms don’t have a mental health policy in place while a further 10% are taking steps to implement one.

“These statistics are more positive than they may first appear,” said Neil. “This is because the larger the firm, the more likely they are to have a policy in place.

“Smaller firms won’t see it as necessary to have these types of policies in place, which is borne out in the results, with over three quarters not having one in place and another 12% saying ‘it’s not necessary.”