Stress is not recognised in UK’s small businesses


A quarter (26 per cent) 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 year1 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. Bupa Stress Management aims to reduce business disruption and time spent managing stress-related absence, while increasing staff productivity and general wellbeing.

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, HSE2.

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.

Bupa Stress Management costs from just £19.50 per employee per year, compared to the average £1,0353 per employee per year created by mental health-related absence and reduced productivity. It includes full management guidance on how to identify the symptoms of stress in the workplace, plus expert advice on the best way to handle it. It also provides ongoing support for employees, including individual case management and a 24-hour confidential support line.

Tony Wood, Sales and Marketing Director at Bupa said: 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. 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. Understanding these barriers is what inspired us to create Bupa Stress Management, which has been designed to help small businesses to identify and deal with stress issues, without taking up too much time or investment.


Dr 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. Bupa Stress Management can help guide such decisions and provide individual support for employees. All companies have a Health & Safety policy, so why not a Stress and Mental Health policy too?

As published on 11th June 2012