Mental health issues such as stress and depression can often prove significant barriers to inclusion in the workplace for sufferers, in many cases causing staff to be increasingly absent from work or even leaving their job entirely.

But despite this, many small businesses may be failing to address mental health issues among their staff due to a lack of confidence in their abilities to deal with such problems, a new report from Bupa suggests.

A survey by the health provider found that 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, while two in five (41 per cent) admit they never speak to employees about their physical or mental health.

Indeed, many employers are much more comfortable talking to staff about trivial matters than they are discussing more serious issues, with more than half (55 per cent) stating they regularly discuss the weather with an employee but only one in four (27 per cent) saying they would discuss an employee’s health.

However, figures suggest businesses have a lot to gain from addressing mental health issues, stress, depression and similar problems thought to cost the UK £26 billion a year in absence, presenteeism and staff turnover.

Meanwhile, figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 10.8 million working days were lost in 2010/11 to work related stress alone.

“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,” said Tony Wood, sales and marketing director at Bupa.

“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.”