Office banter over Slack, being told you’ve got ‘man flu’ when you take a sick day – the workplace for men can be a competitive and unforgiving environment, laced with deep-rooted masculinity.
In a society where men are expected to be handsome, muscled and driven, yet also smart and sensitive it’s no wonder the pressure cooker of men’s mental health is near to exploding. But is there one factor tipping the balance over the rest? Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind explains that of all the stresses in a man’s life, their research shows that ‘work is the main factor causing men poor mental health, above problems outside work. Many men work in industries where a macho culture prevails or where a competitive environment may exist which prevents them from feeling able to be open.’
In male-dominated industries such as tech, where 81% of roles are filled by men in the UK, the problem is growing rapidly. An industry infamous for being fast-moving and competitive, male tech employees are expected to work long hours in front of a screen, often on multiple complex projects. Couple this with the post-pandemic movement for working at home, even the small social engagements a worker would experience in the office – such as making a cup of coffee with a colleague or chatting over lunch are near enough obsolete.
This lack of communication is sending middle-aged men to the edge. Research by The Samaritans shows that male suicides are at an all-time high, especially in the ages between 45 and 59-years-old who are more likely to take their own lives than any other group (at 26.5 per 100,000). This age group once considered in the ‘prime of their life’ is now the most likely to experience mental health problems and, in the tech industry, there is also a notably higher number of suicides than in some other industries.
This age group is noted to be less inclined to seek help when faced with mental health struggles, especially with senior management. This is not exclusive to this demographic, however, with a study by the Mental Health Foundation finding that 38% of people ‘feared their job security and future job prospects would be jeopardised if they spoke up about a mental health problem’.
With those working in tech five times more likely to be depressed than the general UK population, this is a figure that can’t be ignored.
Opening up the conversation
So how can companies open the conversation about mental health in an approachable way? Digital Asset Management company, Bright, is working to remove the stigma around the subject of mental health and with a predominantly male workforce, they are keen to monitor their colleague’s wellbeing by checking in regularly on staff when they return to work after being off with a mental health complaint.
They also employ ‘mental health first aiders’ as points of call within the company for people to talk to (outside HR) and are considering changing the way they speak about mental health, with ‘reset days’ being an optional term for requesting a day off due to feeling unwell mentally.
Actively encouraging staff to take regular breaks away from their screens and discouraging working longer hours is another way that companies can ensure people are less engulfed in their job, which can often lead to feelings of overwhelm and stress. Microsoft actively encourages senior employees to share their mental health struggles in a bid to break the boundaries surrounding open communication, and also offer a dedicated range of resources from in-person counselling to parenting advice and childcare options to assist those needing extra support.
Improving mental health protects the bottom line
From a business standpoint, it makes financial sense to protect a workforce from mental health concerns – the World Health Organisation indicates that ‘depression and anxiety, which affect 300 million people around the world, cost the global economy a vast $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.’
With Gen-Z being labelled the ‘most depressed generation’, companies must be proactive in supporting their workforce’s mental health as younger employees could be more susceptible to mental health concerns, as Sarah Lockhart, Principal Consultant for Health and Wellbeing at benefits management software provider Thomsons Online Benefits explains, ‘the tech workforce often comprises a high proportion of young people, who have less experience dealing with client expectations and are often less resilient to knock-backs, which can damage mental wellness.‘
‘I have been really impressed with my team, and how willing they are to bring up mental health issues, and request reduced hours or time off when they need it. Our team at MeetFounders is really young, with all 12 employees under 25 years old. I have a feeling that this willingness to be honest about their mental health is not so much due to us being a tech company, but because the younger generation understands that mental health is just as serious an issue as physical health. At 36, I’m the oldest on our team, and I have to be honest that I was not always so forthcoming about my mental health to colleagues or my boss at my past jobs. I really feel we are at a crossroads when it comes to accepting mental health, and this is driven in large part by Generation Z as they enter the workforce.’
As we move ahead into a new year still full of uncertainty, improved mental health for men in tech should start at the top of the pyramid. Management teams must create an open space for people to share their struggles, safe in the knowledge they will be listened to and supported. If this is followed up with tangible resources available to staff where they can seek help and a dedicated person or team to act as a signpost, then everyone will be healthier, both in mind and body.
Victoria Heyward is Brand Marketing and Communications Manager at Bright.