Employers should not shy away from acknowledging the importance of workers’ mental health, warns a Leamington Spa employment law specialist.
The warning follows the recent release of new Government guidelines encouraging businesses to provide better help and support for employees with such problems.
Yet many refuse even to consider recruiting such a person.
"There’s a danger that many employers will dismiss this as just another administrative burden on their business and shrug it off as the Government failing to take responsibility for the health of the country," said Jane Hobson, employment law specialist at Ollerenshaw.
"But there are benefits for employers who take the Government’s advice and even go as far as making the health and wellbeing of their employees one of their key business objectives."
Mrs Hobson said an estimated one in four people would suffer a mental illness at some point in their lives, leading to a rise in sick leave through depression, anxiety and stress.
"Few employers have a clear policy or approach as to how to handle such cases or what they can do to get employees back to work and avoid similar situations in the future," she noted.
"Sickness adversely affects business profitability and performance, with increased absenteeism leading to higher staff turnover, low morale, excessive accident rates and ultimately costly and time consuming litigation."
Stress related problems can be caused by a wide variety of factors both inside and outside of the workplace.
Outward signs of problems may include a poor relationship with work colleagues, indecisiveness, inability to delegate or manage and a general deterioration in performance. Organisational pressures that contribute to stress could include bullying and harassment, lack of training, poor and inconsistent management, irregular and long hours, unreasonable deadlines and changes in technology.
"Experience shows that employers who have a clear policy on addressing mental health problems and are creative in their approach to handling such situations get their employees back to work more quickly," said Mrs Hobson, "This can include offering free health checks, gym membership, relaxation classes, individual counselling and psychotherapy, as well as access to confidential counselling both in relation to work and non-work related problems.
"The key is to have an adequate policy that addresses these issues and is supported by senior management who appreciate that pressure should be stimulating and not stressful."
Recent figures have revealed that only 20 per cent of those with mental health problems are currently employed, compared to 75 per cent of healthy adults and 65 per cent of those who are physically unwell.
One in three of the mentally ill say they have been sacked or forced to resign as a result of their condition, 40 per cent have been denied a job and 95 per cent believe that their illness has had a significant negative impact on their career.
Sixty-three per cent of employers said they would not recruit those with mental health problems.
Judith Watson, head of employment at law firm Cobbetts, said: "Employers are seriously underestimating the extent of workplace suffering from mental health disorders and often lack effective procedures to identify and manage mental health. Many employers deny they have any workers with such problems.
"If sufficient numbers of staff are affected by stress, depression or anxiety the problem can become a serious organisational one, manifesting as absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased staff turnover and customer complaints. More seriously, ongoing stress can result in dangerous consequences such as mental health problems.
"It is vital that employers recognise the first signs of anxiety and depression in order to prevent them from becoming more serious.
"Many individuals will make a full recovery, often without needing to take any time off work, but employers should always encourage employees to seek help as soon as possible."