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Overseas employers must take action on men’s health

Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection

Globally, health and wellbeing statistics are very different for men compared to women. For overseas employees, the contrast may be even more stark, with different host countries having different attitudes to men’s health.

Cancer risks
Cancer mortality rates are higher among men than women worldwide. Men’s overall higher death rates from cancer are thought to be linked to lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, obesity, and poor diet. There is also evidence that women are more likely to have medical check-ups – increasing the likelihood of early detection.

Offer screening
Screening is vital for diagnosing cancers early, which results in better outcomes. While women may be automatically offered screening for breast and cervical cancers in the UK, often through state-provided healthcare, this is less often the case for male cancers, and, in addition, employers cannot rely on this happening abroad, so it is particularly vital that screening is offered to overseas staff.

Check cover
The three countries with the highest rates of prostate cancer (Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Ireland) are not the countries with the highest mortality rates from prostate cancer (Zimbabwe, Barbados, and Haiti). A number of factors can impact the outcome of a cancer diagnosis from country to country, from awareness through to differing treatment. It is vital that effective treatment for cancer is included in any health and wellbeing support offered to overseas staff.

Male suicide rates
Suicide rates in men are consistently and significantly higher than in women on a global scale. In the UK the suicide rate in men is 11.8 per 100,000, compared to 4 per 100,000 for women. In Australia it is 18.6 men and 6.4 women per 100,000, and in South Africa it is 37.6 men and 9.8 women per 100,000.

Suicide is preventable. Employers can have a big impact by giving employees the support they need. Overseas employees have particular risks due to the pressures of living and travelling abroad and the associated isolation. Employers can help by being aware of the challenges and making support readily available.

Women outliving men
Women outlive men in almost every society. As a global average, women live to 75.6 years, while men live to 70.8 years. Hong Kong has the highest overall life expectancy at an average of 85.29 years, but even here women live on average nearly six years longer than men. Access to healthcare, hygiene, diet and nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle all play an important part in life expectancy, and these are areas where employers can help with the inconsistencies around the world and level the playing field for their male employees abroad, by offering access to good care for men.

Communication
Much of the issue may be that men do not talk enough – to each other or about their concerns. This may be even more so in some countries around the world, where some cultures do not encourage men to talk openly about their mental or physical health. This can be further exacerbated in certain industries and company cultures.

Employers are in a position to encourage open conversation between men, and about men’s health, in groups and forums. For those who would rather speak in private, confidential helplines and counselling can be made available through global employee assistance programmes, or as standalone support, and this can be a game changer for men.

Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection, says: “Men’s health is a topic for us all. Employers with overseas staff need to be particularly aware of the physical and mental strains on male colleagues and should consider offering male-centric support if they really want to make a difference, in the same way that they would offer female-specific support surrounding maternity or menopause.”

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