Over one in four UK managers (27%) say they are more comfortable discussing employees’ physical health than they are discussing their mental health, according to new research from AXA PPP healthcare.

And, while it’s encouraging that 57% say they’re just as comfortable discussing one or the other, the presence of a sizeable minority who aren't indicates there’s still work to be done to overcome the discomfort some managers have about talking to employees about their mental health.

When asked why they felt more comfortable discussing an employee’s physical health, managers cited not knowing enough about mental health compared with physical health (45%), not wanting to upset or offend anyone (43%) and not wanting to say the wrong thing and get in to trouble 34%. Nineteen per cent admitted they wouldn’t know how to start a conversation with an employee about their mental health.

Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services for AXA PPP healthcare, said: "Employers have a duty of care towards their employees' health and safety, and would therefore be wise to provide managers with suitable training and back-up to ensure they are able to support employees whether their health problem relates to physical health or to mental health. There is still a taboo around mental health and, as seen by the responses of the managers we polled, some would seem to be more concerned about getting into trouble or upsetting the employee than they are about their wellbeing."

The survey showed that over a quarter (28%) of managers had been diagnosed or treated personally for a mental health related condition such as stress, anxiety or depression by a health professional. A quarter of these (26%) chose to keep this private, with only a fifth (19%) revealing it to their manager. They cited fear of being judged by colleagues (42%) or managers (32%), fear for career prospects (25%) and fear of being discriminated against (21%) as reasons for keeping quiet.