Mental health problems are still stigmatised in society. While initiatives for mental health support have been springing up over the last few years, poor mental health is still a prevailing social problem.
Whilst women are also affected by burnout and other mental health issues like men, there’s generally less stigma around talking about it, even at work. Considering the effect COVID-19 has had on employee mental health and on people raising the conversation, how can employers work to support men’s mental health next year?
Examining men’s mental health
Poor mental health can be linked to burnout and the work environment, and this can also be linked to a lack of understanding of mental health and stress.
Though there are, of course, myriad things that can feed into poor mental health, burnout at work is one of the most commonly-cited reasons for a decline. Burnout is defined as chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been effectively managed, and it can lead to exhaustion and negativity relating to work.
We’ve already mentioned that male mental health particularly suffers in this regard: there’s a pervasive idea that men should cope alone. “Keep a stiff upper lip” and “man up” are phrases that encourage stoic silence instead of sharing. Whilst there has been some improvement in the way we approach men’s mental wellness, these phrases and the attitudes that go alongside them are still a factor.
Charity initiatives like Movember can help to dispel the stigma around wellbeing support for men and encourage everyone to talk about their problems, whether to a friend, colleague, or professional. But what is the support situation currently like for male employees at companies?
Workplace mental health
CoursesOnline carried out a survey earlier in the year which looked to find the answer to the question, “has COVID-19 encouraged you to be more vocal about sharing mental health issues at work?”
The first question within the survey asked, “if you had a mental health concern today, who would be the first person that you’d speak to about it?”
Despite this increasing mental health awareness and the progress made in recent years, 54% of respondents answered that they would prefer to speak to friends or family about their mental health concerns rather than someone at work. Moreover, 13% of those responding said that they wouldn’t speak to anyone at all.
This is, of course, understandable to an extent, as many people are more comfortable with friends than with co-workers. But poor mental health can have severe and far-reaching consequences on work, and addressing these concerns early on could mitigate the problem later down the line.
It should always be up to the individual on how they want to express their mental health concerns, but companies should shoulder some responsibility for staff mental health. Stress at work can often aggravate employees’ issues, so ensuring that employees feel that they can raise their concerns, present their feelings, and speak to dedicated team members about how work is affecting their mental health is critical.
Furthermore, it is vital to allow employees to speak about how personal mental health issues might be affecting their quality of work. Although they shouldn’t feel obliged to share their personal feelings with their employers, giving them a way to flag mental health struggles they’re having allows business to react in a way that ensures the employee feels supported and looked after by their wider team and the company as a whole.
The impact of COVID-19
The second question of the survey asked, “what mental health policies have your workplace implemented in response to COVID-19?”
Employee mental health has been a huge topic for many organisations over the past couple of years. Not only have employees had to cope with everyday stressors, but the pandemic brought its own challenges, including an assault on our mental wellbeing.
Despite that, the survey found that 31% of workplaces had not implemented any new mental health policies.
On a brighter note, 22% had looked into extra training for their HR teams to talk through mental health issues with concerned employees, while 19% would pay for staff to speak to external mental health professionals.
Data like this demonstrates that companies should always use a variety of techniques to improve mental health outcomes within their workforce. Often, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and companies should be open to considering a wide range of ideas in order to improve employee wellbeing.
For less common mental health policies, such as time off dedicated to wellbeing, as well as payments for professional mental health care, companies should consider how they can go above and beyond for their employees. Offering a wider range of options early on can increase the likelihood of success when it comes to improving staff wellbeing, rather than focusing on reactive solutions as issues arise.
Looking forward on men’s mental health
The last question asked, “do you think that COVID-19 will lead to a long-term increased focus on mental health in the workplace?”. CoursesOnline found that 67% of men said yes, but that around a third said no.
Although the majority of men think that COVID-19 has provided a turning point in the conversation around mental health in the workplace, a sizeable minority are pessimistic about what the future holds.
The pandemic provided many challenges to the mental health of all working groups. However, this survey reveals that focusing too much on prescriptive mental health solutions that are based around pandemic-related stressors could be missing the point entirely.
Although it’s vital to have dedicated mental health solutions to specific concerns, it’s essential that businesses don’t miss out on building on the foundations of quality mental health services they’ve provided during a difficult time. The majority of men are keen to see mental health programmes extended beyond the pandemic. Work-related stress, high workloads, and poor awareness of mental health issues are consistent concerns that were here before the pandemic and will remain for a long time.
Assuring less optimistic men that their mental health will still stay high up the agenda can instil a feeling of comfort, as they look forward to a consistent approach to care and wellbeing in the workplace.
Overall, studies are revealing the current state of play with men’s mental health and show how the pandemic has increased conversation around this topic. Businesses should know that their male workforce is eager to improve their wellbeing in the workplace but need suitable support systems in place in order to feel content when in the office or at home.
Communicating with your staff, ensuring that they’re aware of the support that is in place for them, and giving them the opportunity to feedback are the pillars of a progressive and practical approach to quality mental health support in the workplace for male employees.
Sarah Jane McQueen is General Manager at Candlefox, a firm that helps education providers increase student enrolments.