Men’s workplace mental health – a new year policy

Employers must get on the same page as male employees about mental health needs

The subject of mental health has never been more in focus, and while that marks a great progression for families and organisations alike, there is a lot more than can and needs to be done, with regard to mental health for men specifically, and moving the conversation on from just awareness and into action.

Why supporting mental health for men matters more today

In England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

This isn’t just having a temporary impact, but a sustained one on the lives of men. On one scale of extreme consequences, there is the much-underreported insight of male suicide; out of three-quarters of suicide deaths registered in 2019, 4,303, were men, compared with 1,388 women.

Lockdowns, remote working and a growing sense of isolation over the last two years has only heightened the impact of mental health across the workplace, and many of the organisations I speak to confide to just how significant the challenge has been – particularly for men, who in themselves are becoming more awakened to their own mental health.

As more men are starting to put their mental health in focus, we are getting a much greater picture of its impact, and more organisations are now becoming aware of just how much mental health is impacting their workplace.

For men, and especially those who still find it difficult to be truly open, how can organisations help?

1. Encouraging real openness – the pressure of working fathers

One of the biggest tensions of the modern-day workplace is that previous traditions and beliefs that often dictate office culture are increasingly at odds with modern-day lifestyles and behaviour.

For instance, beliefs from past generations such as that men should ‘just be at work’ are clearly still engrained across a number of industries – even those we might have otherwise considered being at the forefront of innovation. Many of these men are the ones that still sit and lead ‘the boardroom.’

They are the ones that still, in the main, drive the outlook of an organisation, and they are also the ones subscribed to be mentors for the next generation of leaders in the workplace. And that’s where we have a problem.

How can a modern-day father, someone who perhaps took, or maybe wanted to take, extended paternity leave, and someone who wants to be an equal parent at home with his partner, truly confide in what work/life success looks like with the type of leader who only believes in men who are only 100% at work?

It’s a tension, that if left unresolved, is a huge mental health trigger as it goes right to the heart of what modern dad’s see as life success.

So we need to re-think how to create that safe space for men to have an honest conversation about their feelings and progression in the workplace – with other men in the same position.

It’s why we’ve created a number of ‘dads-clubs.’ These are unique setups whereby dads can get together, whether in the office or somewhere nearby but just outside the close proximity of the office, to bring their dad identities to work – having the conversations about progressing as dads at work, for the betterment of their teams and culture as a whole. The results have been an incredible turnaround for dads to feel more connected to their team, their workplace as well as their families as they are structures that encourage real openness and honesty.

2. Keeping mental health for men on the agenda

In many ways, because of the substantial impact of COVID-19, many organisations have embraced the conversations needed around mental health because it’s been so unavoidable.

It would be tempting to think that that’s enough to keep it on the agenda, but HR teams have a tremendous opportunity, and I’d also argue a responsibility, to keep it at the very top of the leadership agenda on an ongoing basis. This is where insight is key. How the organisation can keep their finger on the pulse with regard to mental health experiences for its people will help them gather the data required to make better-informed decisions.

As I know though from all of DaddiLife’s research, getting dad’s to complete a questionnaire isn’t always that easy, and that’s where the role of short 1-2-1 sessions can go far.

For our new pregnancy book, You’re Going To Be A Dad, we interviewed over 50 dads on a 1-2-1 basis to get far deeper into their own mental health challenges, concerns, and anxieties – in a way that simply filling in a survey couldn’t have done. Better use of qualitative insight like this across the workplace will be key to supporting men’s mental health.

3. Are you creating a plaster or a cast?

When we’re designing the solutions for men’s mental health, we also need to be sure we’re creating a sustainable solution – something that understands how different men in the workplace are experiencing their mental health challenges and creating the appropriate support around them to continue to succeed.

As part of that, we need to keep in mind at all times whether the solutions are creating genuine change, or whether they are simply a short term fix that’s doing little to actually advance men’s health at work.

What solutions are you creating for men’s mental health in the workplace?

Han-Son Lee is the Founder of DaddiLife, a leading parenting platform for modern-day dads, which works with organisations to enhance workplace culture for dads at work.

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