How workplaces can better support men’s mental health

There is still a long way to go in opening up about men's mental health

More and more people face mental health issues in their lifetime, and many of these occur while they are in employment. Burnout, depression, anxiety, and other conditions are rising as individuals simultaneously juggle ever-increasing demands on multiple fronts. In fact, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems, costing UK employers approximately £2.4 billion per year through absenteeism and lost productivity. By managing mental health properly, these losses can be reduced.

The challenges of the current pandemic have highlighted the issue of mental health and encouraged companies and their HR teams to take action to support employees’ mental wellbeing. But despite these efforts, more needs to be done to improve mental health, especially in men.

Society has become much better at talking about male mental health. The stigma associated with men’s mental illness has reduced thanks to campaigns like Movember. However, despite encouraging trends, there is still a long way to go. 43% of men admit to feeling worried or low on a regular basis, but they are less likely to receive mental health support compared to women. This results in maladaptive coping mechanisms in which they keep their struggles for themselves rather than seeking professional help. Consequently, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, making this the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.

Companies need to do more to support men and encourage them to speak up and get help. This is easier said than done, but some measures can be put in place to change the status quo and create a more supportive and safer environment in which men feel more comfortable sharing their struggles with mental health.  

Open up the conversation

Women are often asked how they are doing at work and are more likely to speak up about their struggles. Men, on the other hand, often shy away from being open about personal matters. They are less likely to receive support simply because they are less likely to ask for help, as many still feel there is a stigma around mental health issues. They might be afraid that acknowledging mental health issues is associated with being weak, which goes against the stereotypical idea of men always being strong. As a result of centuries-old gender stereotypes, men have learned to hide their emotions more than women. This has led them to deal with their mental health issues in maladaptive ways, such as alcohol and substance abuse. Therefore, organisations need to change this dynamic and clearly convey that it is ok not to be ok and that mental health issues do not equal failure or weakness. Leading by example, managers should ask male staff how they are doing and encourage them to speak up and share issues they may face.

Mental health days

Increasing workloads, stress, and social pressure to just “get on with it” negatively impacts employees’ mental ill-health. Some countries, such as Australia, have introduced ‘mental health leave’ where employees are encouraged to take days off whenever needed, with no questions asked. Perhaps this provision could be renamed ‘personal day off’ to reduce the stigma, but its existence is a step in the right direction. Some sort of day off, where people do not have to explain why they are absent, would be a great measure to help staff who might be struggling.

Celebrating World Mental Health Day (10 October) raises awareness and normalises mental ill-health issues as part of an inclusive workplace. Organising a mental health stigma pub quiz is yet another way towards demystifying mental health issues. It is also an opportunity to share information about the available resources with those struggling but fail to either acknowledge it or do not know how to get help and what kind of support is available to them.

Anonymous support

Men are more likely to seek support when it is online and anonymous. Therefore, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), in which professional counselling and help are offered anonymously over the phone or online, are useful to reach those men who would otherwise keep quiet and cope with their mental ill-health in maladaptive ways.  

Company culture

Macho workplace cultures can lead to mental ill-health. Research shows that one in three men attribute poor mental health to their job. As a result of an increasingly competitive environment, many employees are expected to answer emails and take work-related calls at night and over the weekend, going far and above the workload stipulated in their contracts. Staff often feel they cannot refuse or challenge this out of fear of looking weak and missing out on future promotion.

Yet, it is possible to change this work culture. HR should regularly remind employees that they are not obliged to answer work-related calls or emails outside office hours. In intensive environments, power naps at work can be allowed, sports facilities and activities such as yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation could be provided.

Although poor mental health can affect anyone, irrespective of age, gender or status, men, especially those working in competitive environments and carrying many responsibilities, tend to struggle more than others to speak up and ask for help and support. Organisations need to be aware of this and put in place measures that help improve men’s psychological wellbeing and work-life balance. Organisations must create a safe space in which individuals can openly talk about the challenges they face to find a solution that is beneficial for everyone.
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