Worker in Canary Wharf
World Mental Health Day is focusing on schizophrenia this year Reuters

Employees are putting in longer and harder hours in the workplace than ever before.

Across the UK, people are working under greater pressure, and among people of working age, nearly half of all ill health is now mental illness, with one in six workers dealing with anxiety, depression or stress right now.

Yet perhaps more worryingly, a huge number of employees are suffering in silence. Indeed, our Friends Life survey has shown that in the last year four in 10 employees in the UK have experienced stress, anxiety or depression and not told their employer.

Other startling findings show that more than half of employees are still hiding mental health conditions from employers for fear of it affecting their jobs, with more than a quarter of employees taking a sick day saying it was for a physical problem when it was actually due to a mental health problem.

These statistics paint a troubling picture of the consequences of brushing mental health under the workplace carpet and creating a culture of silence.

But the good news is that every business can do something to tackle this.

We know that there is a compelling moral and business case for investing in mental health, with happier, healthier and engaged employees being more productive and loyal to their employers.

In fact, our research has shown that half of UK employees would be more motivated if their employer took greater action to support the mental wellbeing of employees.

The same number of employees would be more likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work if there was better investment in employee mental health – showing that this type of investment is critical for talent recruitment and retention.

The bottom line is organisations can't manage what they can't talk about so it is up to us as business leaders to start these conversations, to normalise the issue for employees and encourage them to seek help when they need it.

Here are my recommendations for how progressive employers can start to tackle the issue of mental health in the workplace and encourage a more open, supportive dialogue around the issue.

  1. Appoint a mental health champion at board or executive level. Business leaders must start conversations about mental health to help de-stigmatise the issue. The leadership message that 'mental health is important' is crucial in putting your employees at ease around the issue and more able to ask for help if needed.
  2. Equip your managers. Providing tailored training for line managers which encourages regular, honest conversations with employees is key to them feeling supported and able to cope with work pressures.
  3. Take advantage of the excellent resources available to you. Mind, Time to Change and BITC Workwell have all developed a range of materials to support your organisation break the silence on mental health.

Andy Briggs is the group chief executive of Friends Life