It is estimated that the average person spends one-third of their life at work, so whatever your gender businesses cannot ignore the influence of issues in the workplace – from burnout, stress, work-family conflict, financial instability, overdemanding job expectations, conflict and poor work interactions – on their employees’ mental (and physical) health. However, men are three times more likely to take their own life than women and are far less likely to seek help, and report lower levels of life satisfaction than women at every age, according to a government wellbeing survey. So with Men’s Health Week (12th – 18th June) around the corner what are some of the influencing factors facing men’s mental health and how can the C-Suite actively help?
We have socialised ideals of masculinity. Psychotherapist and men’s specialist coach Chris Hemmings says the term ‘toxic masculinity’ is demeaning and pushes men away from engaging. “What men show are problematic behaviours because of the expectations of rigid masculinity, i.e. when you have to be strong, brave and tough and in charge and show no emotion all of the time. Most of us know this is not how it should be, but it is often how it is right now, and the solution lies in men freeing themselves from these constraints. Otherwise when there is a power vacuum, the nefarious characters slip into it because they are tapping into a need. Some men feel confused and scared about how they should be now, and these powerhouses offer you the answers and you go on to regurgitate their rhetoric because at some point it made you feel better or gave you a clue about what to aim for. Andrew Tate’s influence is a perfect example.”
Many Men Feel They Can’t Ever Get It Right
There is a lot of blame on men as a result of single terrible incidences of harassment, misogyny or physical violence. We know that women shouldn’t ever feel fear to be on their own but many good men are often now frightened to get on a bus, in a lift or walk in an underpass when there is a single woman there. There is a stigma attached to being a man.
Many men now experience a growing tide of rhetoric suggesting “men are the problem” – no wonder that so many are reluctant to actively engage with any concrete solutions.
Inclusivity Has To Be For Men Too
Speaking on behalf of everyone in the room means inclusivity for all and that has to include men too. In some organisations we’ve spoken to, men are simply not allowed to have a men’s network because it is against the Equality Act – something that is indicative of the whole problem according to Chris Hemmings. “Men are not allowed to have healthy spaces because some men in the past created unhealthy ones. As with any gender or group, we need to be able to allow men to get support because ultimately the more empathy the better for the individual not to mention everyone in that business and therefore the bottom line. Everyone should be taken care of in the workplace, and everyone has a part to play.”
Where and When Is It Time to Talk?
We often tell male workers that they are free to speak but then they are told off when they voice their thoughts, and the fallout is not addressed. Chris Hemmings says: “We have begun to dismantle the boy’s club but then have rudderless men and we aren’t then creating healthy male-only spaces for them to discuss their experiences. We have rightly championed women’s and LGTBQ+ rights but what do businesses have for their men? Men are told they need to talk more but are businesses really creating a space, a when and a where, and who the hell is listening anyway?”
Leaders in the C-Suite must provide managers with the confidence to recognise and address cultural problems affecting mental health and must actively provide a facilitated time and place for discussions for those who are struggling or just want to talk about how they are feeling. It’s not just time to talk but time to listen and be met with empathy, compassion and understanding.
What To Look Out For?
Managers and colleagues need to look out for symptoms of declining mental health, especially because men tend to mask it more and keep it to themselves. Symptoms can include irritability, trouble concentrating, poor sleep, absenteeism, drinking too much, anxiety or poor performance at work. We need to encourage men in the workplace to seek help for their mental health and to talk more about how they are feeling.
What The C-Suite Must Focus On
- Have A Duty Of Care – Responsible employers understand that they must support all staff in managing their mental health, and men are less likely to ask for help. Ensure that your company’s culture is not harming the well-being of your employees. Time away from work is vital for wellbeing, but taking extra time off is often not a sufficient mental health solution because if workplace factors are not improved such as poor culture, employees will only return and experience the same feelings.
- Break The Stereotypes –We are more acutely aware of gender issues when we consider women in the workplace. ‘Real men don’t cry’ and ‘man up’ and men ‘bringing home the bacon’ are still heard on a daily basis. Avoid gender stereotypes of any kind. We all have masculine and feminine in us whatever our gender. Men are still often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong and in control which makes it harder for them to open up or ask for help.
- Invest For A Good Return – Investing in mental health shows that you are dedicated to long-term employee care. A 2022 Deloitte report found employers receive a return of £5.30 on average for every £1 they invest in staff mental health. Alternatively, the cost of new recruitment can average £30,000. Regular training (not one-off events) helps us spot the warning signs when someone is struggling and help identify and provide support for vulnerable employees. An external facilitator will enable an open and non-judgmental environment where everyone can voice their thoughts and concerns and reducing the fear of retribution.
- Allow Men To Put On Their Oxygen Mask – Men need to be compassionate, empathetic and good to others, but they also need to give that to themselves first (when you’re on a plane, you have to put your own mask first). That’s why it’s vital for men to be met in their reality; with an understanding that they also experience difficulties, pain and anxiety and that they aren’t inherently evil just because they are male.
- Ask Powerful Questions – Whilst it’s nice to ask, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Are you okay?’, this is likely to produce an affirmative ‘I’m fine thanks’ regardless of the truth. Especially with men. If you suspect someone is struggling, asking them how you can help relieve their stress and offering them a deep listening ear can have a measurable impact. This calls for both empathy and sensitivity.
- Be An Extraordinary Leader – Healthy organisations are made up of transparent, authentic and caring leaders who understand their main role is to create an inclusive healthy culture so employees can get on with doing their jobs happily and healthily. These leaders frequently check in on staff and provide managers with the confidence to recognise and address cultural problems affecting mental health including burnout, excessive hours, fear and overbearing demands and pressures. They openly discuss mental health and make it clear that they fully support employee wellbeing.
- Replace Macho Culture With Discussing Healthy Masculinity – Organisations can do this by fostering an inclusive and safe culture where men feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. Even if people feel uncomfortable with men talking about vulnerability, the more we do it the more it will be normalised. Ask men to tell you more and give them the space to process their emotions.
- Recognise Men Are Different – We develop poor behaviour because we have been taught to think negatively or lack good influences. Having good male role models is incredibly important for men. We also need to recognise men and women engage differently with their mental and emotional well-being.