Mental health prejudice still exists in UK business and those at the top of the country’s largest organisations are not doing enough to tackle the problem according to a new study from Bupa.

The overwhelming majority (94%) of business leaders admit there is a prejudice in their organisation towards people with mental health issues. Almost all (88%) claim they are trying to encourage an open culture of discussion around mental health and yet as many as seven in ten (70%) employees don’t feel they can speak candidly about such issues or concerns.

The study, Breaking the Silence, identifies that there is a disconnect between what leaders think they are doing to support good mental health, and what employees say they are actually experiencing.

Unconcious bias

While three quarters (76%) of business leaders know that creating a mentally healthy workforce makes good business sense, Bupa’s study reveals that leaders are not as understanding as they believe. Leaders admit to labelling employees with mental health conditions unpredictable (27%), erratic (22%) and weak (22%).

Meanwhile, almost half (47%) report treading on eggshells around employees who have experienced a mental health condition and one in five leaders (22%) avoid talking to them altogether.

Patrick Watt, corporate director at Bupa, comments: “Despite business leaders recognising the importance of addressing mental health at work there is still a long way to go to break down the wall of silence and create genuine change.

“Businesses must take immediate action. Managers need to be trained to spot the signs and know how to support employees to get the right help. At Bupa, we support a number of members to self-refer, ensuring they get quick and easy access to confidential treatment without the need to see a GP or psychiatrist first – helping them return to peak performance sooner.”

Down and out

Further to the culture of silence, Bupa’s research reveals that worrying prejudices are negatively impacting employees’ progress at work. One in five employees (20%) that have suffered with mental health issues have been put under pressure to resign, while half (51%) believe they are less likely to get promoted.

This is reflected in the views of those at the top, with a quarter (27%) of business leaders believing that workers with mental health illnesses will fail to return to full productivity. Yet over half (53%) of employees who are experiencing these conditions feel they are still top performers.

Patrick Watt adds: “Great talent is being lost and demotivated due to a lack of understanding about mental health. Yet, it is perfectly possible for employees to return to work after a mental illness, and not only perform, but excel in their roles.

“Business leaders must be the champions of change: tackling the stigma around mental health, eliminating practices or cultural habits that cause stress, and encouraging people to speak up and to seek help without fear or consequence.

“Turning a blind eye will only push issues further underground.”

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing, at Mind, said: “This latest research from Bupa echoes our own findings – that mental health is still a taboo in the workplace. It’s good that organisations are increasingly acknowledging the importance of prioritising the wellbeing of their staff, with those who make mental health a priority seeing the benefits in terms of increased staff productivity and morale; and decreased sickness absence. But clearly senior business leaders still hold some outdated and damaging views about the impact a mental health problem can have on somebody’s ability to carry out their role. We all have mental health and people with mental health problems can perform to a high standard and make a valuable contribution to the business”