Dear Son… My advice to you navigating work with your wellbeing intact

Portrait Of Male High School Student Friends Outside College Buildings

Given we wrote this popular piece to mark International Women’s Day, asking wellbeing experts for their advice for young women in the workplace, we thought it only fair and equal to write a similar piece for men during Men’s Health Week.

Men can sometimes be forgotten in the youth empowerment narrative – there can even be a backlash in commentary on supporting males – but they are grappling with their identity in the modern world as much as women are; some would argue more. If we want a truly equal society it’s important men are not forgotten too.

We’ll kick off with Make A Difference Media’s own Global Content Director Claire Farrow because – with two sons, now in their twenties – this is an issue she’s thought about at length.

Claire Farrow, Partner & Global Content Director, Make A Difference Media & Events


“My two wonderful sons. We’ve never bought into the Big Boys Don’t cry school of thought. We’ve always encouraged you to show your emotions and we’ve shared plenty of tears and laughter over the years. It’s important to know yourself, to recognise what you’re feeling and try to understand where your emotions are coming from, so you can better deal with them.

I hope that wherever you are in the world, you remember our saying about life being like a game of Monopoly; sometimes you’re winning, and sometimes you get dealt a duff chance card. That’s normal. What’s important is to know that you can keep moving forwards, and whatever happens, we love you.

There is so much more that I could add about the workplace, given how much I’ve learnt about progressive employers in my role here. In short:  find an employer that treats you well and is committed both to helping you to grow and to supporting your health and wellbeing; know the common illnesses that affect men and the symptoms to look out for; and don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and please (if I’ve told you 100 times) make an appointment to go to the dentist!”

Strangwood receiving his award at The Watercooler Event in April 2023

Ben Strangwood, Wellbeing Advisor, RSPCA, and winner of our Make A Difference Award for ‘unsung hero; employee that has made the most difference’:

“What would I advise my two boys, who are 7 and 12?

From our early years, a lot of us feel pressure to put ourselves in a career box. Don’t. Instead, follow what you enjoy and find interesting. You’re more likely to do well, and stay well, than doing a job you feel you ‘ought’ to do.

And don’t be afraid to take opportunities that come your way, even if they don’t seem significant, you never know where they may lead. Similarly, don’t be afraid to change career. As we get older and gain experience, our thoughts and ideas change and what you wanted 10 years ago may not be what you want now.

Try not to succumb to the idea of becoming ‘successful’, either. Who’s to say what success is, anyway? Now that I’m 20+ years into my working life, I would class success as being happy and healthy. It’s a bit of a cliche, and we won’t be happy all the time, but I think it will serve you well.

Finally, look after yourself by having boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.”

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James Ellaby, Senior Content Writer, Social

James Ellaby, is a Senior Content Writer at PR agency Social, where he is also the Mental Health Champion and Mental Health First Aider.

This is what he’d say to his young sons, aged 10 and 8:

“The most important thing I’ve learned about work is not to try and be a pretend version of myself.

It’s so exhausting and doesn’t help you, or the company you’re working for.

I’m a quiet person and I spent a long time pretending not to be, doing jobs that didn’t suit me in workplaces where I was expected to be someone else.

I’ve had jobs where I’ve needed to be the talkative one in meetings, or walk into rooms full of people feeling confident about being the centre of attention. I’ve since learned that I’m an introvert and I can only do things like that in small doses before I burn out, which can be difficult working in PR and marketing, where generally people are more extroverted than me.

Understanding what you can bring to a job by being exactly who you are is how you can be happier and look after yourselves. Luckily, I’ve got that now, with managers who know my strengths and what kind of work I’d be less comfortable doing, as well as a job where I can have a work/life balance where I can be around for the important moments in your lives. That’s so important to me.

It’s not easy to get this right straight away so you might make mistakes like I did, but that’s ok. Every job that isn’t quite right will teach you something about what kind of work you want to do, what makes you feel good and how to find employers that value you for who you are, respect your boundaries and preferences.

The good news is things are getting better, companies are taking mental health and wellbeing more seriously, so when you’re old enough to work, I hope it’s so much easier for you to be happy in your jobs than it was for me. Just remember to be yourselves, because that’s what makes you special.”

Petra Velzeboer, Mental Health Consultant, CEO, Psychotherapist and Author of, Begin With You:

“Knowing my son as a person, I’d say it’s okay to ask for what you need. But also that communication is an art and learning to communicate your needs in a way that is collaborative, and that builds the team, is an essential workplace skill.”

Alan Thornburrow is CEO of Salvesen Mindroom Centre, which is a charity that champions all forms of neurodiversity.

It’s partly inspired by the fact he is father to three sons who have been diagnosed with ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Global Learning Disability.

This is what he’d say to them:

“You’ll have strengths and gifts in some areas, just as you’ll find that other things come less naturally to you. Embrace that and remember that it’s impossible to be brilliant at everything.

Try not to let perfection get in the way of being ‘good enough’. Perfectionism can be paralysing. Please trust me when I say that, as you get older, you’ll become more comfortable with who you are and what you bring to the world that is unique to you.

Surround yourself with people who celebrate you, enable you and empower you to be the best version of your own self. Try to tune out from those who doubt or criticise you because rest assured, they have 100 problems for every solution.

All three of you are unique, talented and perfect just the way you are. Part of what makes each and every one of us amazing is that there are no two brains that are the same and that it takes all kinds of minds to make a better world.”

Sarah Wilder is a lawyer and Founder / Inclusion Director at mpm included, which helps businesses be more diverse and inclusive.

She would say to her two school-age sons:

“To my beautiful, strong, intelligent, emotionally open, thoughtful boys.

I wish you an equal workplace, where you can be confident that you have earned your place and your progression because of your skill and experience and not because of the colour of your skin or your biological sex; where no one turns puce or suggests that it is career suicide to take time out to care for your children (because there had BETTER be grandchildren 😝); where you can work flexibly when you need to, and where you and all your colleagues of all races, genders, sexualities, ages, neurodiversities and abilities can thrive.

Demand this, my sons. This is the world your Dad and I want to build for you. Have the courage to settle for nothing less.”

You can also read Sarah’s comments for young women, in our Dear Daughters feature here.

Christian Gallagher, Head of Human Resources, The Royal Ballet School

Christian Gallagher is Head of Human Resources at The Royal Ballet School so, is not only in a pastoral business role, but also works in an environment which is all about nurturing young talent.

He says:

“I am blessed with three daughters, so advising males is outside of my comfort zone. But I’ll give it a go!

My best advice to young men is to be a force for good in the world, and not to take advantage of people.

Own your mistakes! They happen, learn from them and never pass the blame.

Be curious! If you want to climb the ladder, ask questions and learn about your organisation.

Make time for yourself, fresh air and 3 wins each day (run, walk, weights, cycle, whatever).

Lastly, don’t tackle things alone, talk it out with someone.”

You can also hear Christian speak on this webinar on financial wellbeing.

Roxanne Hobbs is a coach and founder of the Hobbs Consultancy, which specialises in helping businesses create workplace cultures where people can show up as themselves and be valued for it.

She has also just published a book to help boys express their emotions better called ‘Throwing Hurt – The Boy With The Tennis Balls’, inspired by her two neurodiverse sons.

She says:

“My work with adults in the workplace really highlights how little emotional literacy we arm you, our kids, with.

Most adults can only name three emotions: happy, sad, angry. I want you to have the vocabulary to express yourself fully, because I know how valuable this is, and how important it is for our mental health.

In our family we’ve found metaphors that can work really well to encourage you to express your emotions. I know you particularly love those related to animals, dragons or sport!

I’m hoping you’ll always remember the metaphor about throwing tennis balls, too, and how this represents how we humans can sometimes offload our hurt onto other people.

The book I wrote uses this metaphor to explain how we accumulate hurt over the course of a day (represented by tennis balls) and then throw this hurt (the balls) at the people we love the most.

When you’re off making your way in the world, I hope you’ll find it useful to think back on your chats about tennis balls and emotions with me and your dad. Maybe even the memory of your dad saying ‘Don’t throw your tennis balls at me!’ will bring a smile to your face. I hope so.”

Martin Short is a wellbeing consultant and former Head of Wellbeing, Diversity and Inclusion for the UK Ministry of Defence.

He’s the father of two boys and encouraging them to talk about their emotions is a subject very close to his heart.

This is what he’d say to them:

“Never shy away from talking about how you feel and why. I’ve tried to do that as your dad in the hope you will too.

I know you’ve flown the nest and are forging your own path in the world now, but please remember dad’s A4 print-out of the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ on the fridge! It’s the best tool I’ve come across.

I use this as my ‘5 a day’ for good mental health. Many men struggle to talk about their feelings, so the Connecting with Others element of the model really does matter. The more you practice the 5 ways, the easier it becomes to weather what life throws at you and the more you will enjoy your life.  Resilience is a skill that can be developed with practice.

I’m proud that you’re able to get past the discomfort and talk to me about how you feel – I hope you always do – like the conversation we had recently about how winter made us feel down and what we both do to feel better.

The more we all do this, the easier it will get and the more resilient we’ll all be.

Also, please remember that feeling sad occasionally is absolutely normal – it is part of the human condition. We all have times when we feel low – but knowing some good self-help tools and having the confidence and trust to talk about how we are feeling can make the world of difference.”

Sally Pritchett, CEO, Something Big

Sally Pritchett is CEO of creative agency Something Big, winner of our Make A Difference Award for ‘Best culture of psychological safety’.

She is a mother of four, and would say to sons:

“I’d urge the next generation of young men in the workforce to be themselves, from being an empathetic leader to opening up to colleagues on difficult topics.

When I climbed the corporate ladder in a very male dominated environment I came across many women emulating their male counterparts to ‘fit in’ and it was hard to be myself but it paid off in the end and I’ve had a much happier career being authentic.”

To read more about Sally, see her profile feature here.

Daniel Chan, Global Workplace & Wellbeing Lead, dentsu international

Daniel Chan is Global Workplace & Wellbeing Lead at creative network dentsu international

He advises:

“As a gay man navigating the workforce I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the support and guidance during my career to get me to where I am today. 

However, this has come with some challenges; from not having the confidence to apply for certain jobs to not being my true self whilst in the workplace. 

My advice to any young gay person on navigating the workplace whilst maintaining or improving their wellbeing is – first and foremost – to be honest with yourself.

There have been times in my career that I didn’t disclose my sexuality as I was fearful of the stigma that I would receive from others.  This affected my wellbeing as I wasn’t being honest to myself, when in fact there was no need to hide this. 

Although this can create anxiety, people are more accepting than you may expect. Be courageous where I wasn’t, and be who you are. Start small and confide in your close colleagues who can be your allies.

Join an Employee Resource Group. Although this can be daunting at first and may be out of your comfort zone, it’s a great way to be part of a community with the option to connect with colleagues who may be in a similar situation.

You’re not alone.

I’ve had the best advice from professionals who have either counselled or coached me in developing and growing myself and improving my wellbeing. Look for your network that can best guide you.

Most of all, be authentically you.”

Daniel spoke at our sister event, The Watercooler, in April 2023, about psychological safety. You can find out more about his views on this here, in this feature.

Lastly, short but sweet parting words from father of four (two sons) Dr Steve Iley,  Chief Medical Officer and Global Head of Occupational Health and Safety, Jaguar Land Rover who says:

“Be nice, you don’t know what sort of day the other person is having.”

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