By Daniel Hunter

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.

Yet stress is likely to cost them thousands of pounds every year in absence and lost productivity. It is estimated that mental health problems such as stress cost the UK economy £26 billion a year in 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.

With two in five (41 per cent) 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. Just under a quarter of small business owners (24 per cent) 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 per cent) 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 per cent) stated they regularly discuss the weather with an employee but only one in four (27 per cent) would discuss an employee’s health, sparking concern that employers do not feel well-equipped to tackle these trickier, personal conversations.

“Stress is a huge issue for small businesses, with owners and employees alike often taking on multiple roles and committing massive emotional investment into the business," Tony Wood, Sales and Marketing Director at Bupa said.

"The pace at which many small businesses have to work, especially in a struggling economy, means that health can be overlooked in the drive to get things done. It’s never easy to tackle personal issues with employees, but a workplace environment that champions open lines of communication can prevent issues from snowballing.

"A big challenge is addressing the stigma often attached to any form of mental illness, particularly in an economic environment where there is uncertainty on job security."

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