By Daniel Hunter

Just 7 per cent of employers have discussed mental health issues with their staff and three quarters of businesses don’t have a mental health policy in place, according to a major new survey by the Institute of Directors.

The findings are revealed on national Time to Talk day, which aims to encourage people to have a five minute conversation about mental health as part of the ongoing campaign to break the silence that often surrounds the topic.

A survey of 1,150 employees and another of 586 senior decision makers from UK businesses, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the IoD in January 2015, showed that as things stand 74 per cent of employees say they would prefer to discuss mental health concerns with someone outside of work.

The IoD/YouGov survey sheds a light on how bosses and employees consider mental health, and reveals the difficulty that SMEs in particular have when it comes to understanding and talking about the issue.

The findings reveal that the number of companies who put in place mental health programmes or have a company-wide policy on mental health is strikingly low, at just 23 per cent.

This is despite overwhelming support from both employers and staff for businesses to take a leading role in addressing mental health at work.

More than eighty per cent (82 per cent) of companies surveyed felt they should adapt their workplace and working practices to promote mental wellbeing, and 68 per cent of employees agreed it was a business’s responsibility to make provisions for their staff’s mental health issues and mental wellbeing.

Commenting on the survey, Simon Walker, Director General of the IoD, said:

“There may come a time when people are as comfortable talking about their mental health as they are talking about the going to the dentist, but we’re not there yet.

“Huge progress has been made, but society still has a long way to go in increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues. Businesses have an enormous role to play in creating an environment where such issues can be discussed openly, effectively and safely.

“After all, we spend a huge amount of lives at work and among colleagues, so we have to take steps to ensure that the work environment, particularly in smaller businesses, is one where mental health issues are well understood.”

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma programme run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“Whilst we’ve witnessed public attitudes around mental health start to change, these findings show how much more needs to be done in the workplace. However, it is encouraging to see that the majority of companies recognise they should do more and we have hundreds of examples of employers, from all sectors, who have already seen the benefits of implementing changes including mental health awareness for all staff, training for line managers, and improvements in the support offered to staff. There isn’t a lack of help and support available to employers, but we need to work together to bridge this gap.”