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Attitudes among SMEs towards mental health ‘changing for the better’

While the impact of mental ill health continues to be felt across the SME community, with four in every 10 firms reporting that at least one of their employees has taken time off work because of it, attitudes are changing for the better. Only 7% of SMEs are of the view that feelings towards those suffering from mental ill health is becoming worse, against 45% who say it’s changing for the better. In addition, 38% of SMEs have noted an increase in reporting of mental health issues over the last three years.

  • 40% of SME employees have taken time off work because of mental ill health
  • 45% of SMEs say attitudes to mental ill health have ‘changed for the better’; only 7% feel the opposite 
  • 38% of company bosses have seen an increase in the number of employees reporting mental health issues in the last three years

The figures were obtained from the latest independent research of 933 UK SMEs conducted by Lightspeed, a specialist research firm, in August and September 2019.

The Services sector, which includes Legal, Accountancy and other professions, had a significantly lower rate of mental health-related absence than the cumulative UK figure (22% against 40%).

“It’s encouraging that it is becoming increasingly accepted for employees to reveal mental ill health and to ask for – and be given - time off,” said Aileen Boyle, MD, Braemar Finance. “But what these results also demonstrate is the impact it has on the UK’s productivity and competitiveness.

“One would expect that as the stigma around the issue continues to dissipate and seeking help to cope becomes normalised, the social and economic impact will lessen over time.”


Over half (UK: 56%; Services 45%) of firms polled have taken steps to actively raise awareness of mental ill health among employees, with firms at the larger end of the scale particularly proactive.


Around a third (32%) of firms don’t have a mental health policy in place while a further 10% are taking steps to implement one. For the Services sector, this rises to 44% with no policy.

“These statistics are more positive than they may first appear,” said Aileen “This is because the larger the firm, the more likely they are to have a policy in place.

“Smaller firms may not see it as necessary to have these types of policies in place, which is borne out in the results, with over three quarters not having one in place and another 12% saying ‘it’s not necessary’.”