Men’s health in the workplace: Key issues and strategies for employers

mens health

Men’s health in the workplace is an important, yet often overlooked aspect of overall employee wellbeing. Factors such as demanding work schedules, societal pressures, and workplace cultures that often discourage vulnerability can make it challenging for men to prioritise their health. Statistics show that physical health issues, as well as mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and burnout, can often be ignored, leading to more serious long-term consequences.

It’s no secret that keeping your wellbeing intact while navigating the workplace can be difficult. Our article for Men’s Health Week saw Suzy Bashford speak to many wellbeing experts about the advice they would give to male employees to stay well at work – and it covered many different issues that might cause men to struggle in the workplace!

A supportive work environment can make a big difference.Simple measures, like offering flexible working hours, promoting mental health resources, and encouraging regular physical activity can go a long way.

Why do we need gender specific health support?

There’s been a lot said about how women’s health has been historically underserved because men are treated as the ‘default’, leading to the gender health gap and women leaving work because of issues such as menopause or fertility conditions.

However, while this might understandably lead to thinking that the healthcare system leans towards men, men have their own challenges when accessing care. And, as men and women’s bodies are different, it stands to reason that different approaches are needed when it comes to supporting health and wellbeing.

Why is men’s health important for employers?

“Healthier, more productive workers equals healthier, more productive companies.”

Heather Kelly, founder of Aura Wellbeing

For employers looking to support the wellbeing of their employees, it’s important to consider men’s health as part of the wider wellbeing strategy. According to recent men’s health parliament research briefings, and data from the ONS, statistics surrounding men’s health are concerning, showing increased risk factors and worrying trends.

  • 1 in 5 men die before age 65
  • 75% of premature deaths from heart disease are male
  • Men are three times as likely to die from suicide than women
  • Men are also more likely to use harmful coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol
  • Men access and engage with health services less than women.
  • Globally, men of working age are almost three times as likely to die from occupational risk factors than women

These issues can significantly impact the workplace. For employers, promoting men’s health can help minimise absenteeism, increase productivity and improve job satisfaction – in turn leading to better recruitment and retention.

Our recent webinar together with Peppy Health, ‘From the Boardroom to the Bedroom: Examining the role of businesses in supporting all aspects of men’s health’ saw an expert panel come together to explore the kinds of issues affecting men, and the types of health support they really need and want from their workplaces. You can watch the replay here.

Key issues for men’s health at work

For employers wanting to make sure their wellbeing strategy encompasses men’s health, identifying those key issues affecting men in particular is an important factor.

Those challenges faced specifically by men include:

Physical health issues for men

Statistics show that mortality rates are higher for men, with a fifth of men dying before reaching retirement age. Data also suggests that men are less likely to seek medical help for health issues, which potentially leads to the aggravation of conditions that could have been prevented or managed with earlier intervention. Some common health issues faced by men include:

  • Heart disease and cardiovascular health conditions
    A leading cause of death for men, heart disease can be linked to high stress environments and poor lifestyle choices
  • Prostate and testicular cancer
    Men have a 37% higher risk of dying of cancer than women, with prostate cancer being the most common cancer in men. Awareness and regular screenings are needed for early diagnosis.
  • Obesity
    Long hours spent at desks, limited physical activity and poor eating habits can all be contributing factors towards obesity, heart disease and other issues.

Read more: AmcoGiffen’s Nutritional Wellness Programme Pays Dividends for Male Dominated Workforce: 3 Easy Diet Changes Guys Can Make

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Men’s mental health

Mental health stigma is also a pressing issue affecting men in the workplace. Societal pressures and the ‘tough it out’ mentality experienced by men, can lead to a reluctance to seek help, resulting in increased stress, anxiety, and burnout. In severe cases, this can lead to suicide – a global health problem disproportionately impacting men.

Early interventions can lead to better health outcomes, but unfortunately, men often wait until symptoms are severe before seeking support. 

In our previous article on tackling men’s health, Lee McNamara, Group Head of Internal Communications and Culture at DFS, says:

“The challenge is the way that society’s expectations of being ‘masculine’ often means not asking for help…instead of it sometimes being the best thing to do, it’s potentially seen as a sign of weakness.”

Read more: More men urged to seek early intervention support

The impact of working culture

Workplace culture also plays a significant role when it comes to men’s health. A culture that encourages long hours, high performance, and stoicism can contribute to stress and burnout. Toxic or overly competitive workplace environments can exacerbate mental health issues, or even trigger new ones. On the other hand, a supportive work environment that promotes work-life balance and open communication can significantly improve health outcomes.

Author Sam Delaney, who runs the podcast ‘The Reset’, which aims to bring more men to the mental health conversation, says:

“There is this cultural conditioning. When you’ve got kids, you feel a huge amount of pressure to be a good role model, bring the money in, put food on the table… even though the practical reality might be that you and your wife share all responsibilities 50/50. But you still have these old fashioned ideas somehow in your head. Feelings of failure are extremely, extremely common in blokes – that is one of the biggest triggers for people I’ve spoken to on the podcast. The impact that feeling like a failure can have on every other aspect of your mood and your mental health is immense.”

Read more: Top 5 signs to look out for when a man is feeling low

Why is men’s mental health important for employers?

So, why should employers be concerned about the mental health of their male employees?

Well, aside from any moral imperative, the business case for employers to create wellbeing strategies that target men’s mental health is strong. It impacts not only on individual wellbeing, but also impacts on overall organisational performance.

Here are some key factors:

  • Reduced absenteeism – Employees struggling with their mental health are more likely to take time off.
  • Productivity – Employees with healthy mental health are likely to be more productive, motivated and effective, leading to better performance and productivity.
  • Safety – Mental health issues can adversely impact concentration and judgement, increasing the risk of workplace accidents. Similarly, high levels of stress could lead to mistakes or accidents.
  • Retention and job satisfaction – Valued employees are more likely to stay, reducing costly turnover and recruitment. 

Apart from having a duty of care, investing in men’s mental health is a strategic move leading to a more positive and productive, safe work environment. In supporting employee mental health issues, employers can work towards a healthier, more engaged, and more resilient workforce, benefiting both the individual and the organisation as a whole.

Further risk factors for men

Men in the workplace also face a variety of occupational risk factors that can significantly impact their health and wellbeing. These risks are often higher for men than for women, particularly in industries that are traditionally male-dominated, such as construction or manufacturing. Globally, men are almost three times as likely to die from occupational risk factors than women

According to a 2023 report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in Great Britain, 96% of fatal injuries in the workplace occurred among men. These fatalities included causes such as falling from heights, contact with moving machinery and being struck by moving vehicles.

As well as these immediate workplace dangers, other occupational hazards may also be present, such as long term impacts from exposure to hazardous substances, or repetitive strain injuries.

Other issues to consider

Sexual health

A further issue that Ruth Potts, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at BAM UK & Ireland, believes is important to bring to the wellbeing table, is sex and sex-related topics. She says ‘We do a lot on women’s health like the menopause and its possible impact on sex and libido. It’s only right and proper that we address the things that men want to know about. And clearly, sex is one of those things.’

The trustee of the Men’s Health Forum continues ‘if sex-related issues are not discussed…it can ultimately lead to relationship breakdown, and clearly, that can affect wellbeing. We should be talking about sex and body parts that don’t work properly, because these are the worries that are on people’s minds.’

Relationship breakdown

Divorce grief is another interesting factor that may impact the workplace, with men being more vulnerable to a negative impact; research showed 93% of men stated that their divorce or relationship breakdown had an effect on their ability to work, compared to 74% of women. The study found that 57% of UK employees who have gone through divorce or relationship separation felt they didn’t receive the support they needed from their employers.

Commenting on this, Katherine Rayden, Senior Partner at Rayden Solicitors said: “Employers need to be sensitive to the fact that divorce can affect their staff beyond their personal lives. Providing the appropriate support will put employees in a better position to cope with their divorce. It’s in the best interest of both the business and its people for employers to meet this need.”

Men’s health in male-dominated industries

“Looking after employee safety is absolutely crucial for protecting mental wellbeing, especially in the construction industry.”

Kelly Friel, Digital Product Manager at Zoro

For men working in male dominated workplaces, such as the construction industry, health becomes even more of a factor affecting workplace wellbeing. Construction has an ageing workforce, higher propensity for chronic illness, and men over the age of 40 are more at risk of suicide in the construction industry (source: ONS). Research by Ironmongery Direct has shown that 82% of tradespeople have experienced poor mental health, and 56% experienced work-related stress at least once a month. Add to this that construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the UK, with workers being four times more likely to die in a workplace accident than any other industry (Health and Safety Executive) and you can see that for companies in these sectors, protecting their male employee’s health and safety should be a vital part of their wellbeing strategy.

Strategies for supporting men’s health in the workplace

So what can employers actually do to actively promote and support men’s health at work? Here are 7 examples or strategies companies could consider.

  1. Enhancing education and awareness

This could be done by providing regular workshops or webinars designed to improve knowledge and awareness of issues affecting men’s health. They can also be used to increase awareness of support offered by the organisation and how it can be accessed.

  1. Creating a supportive culture

“Emotional awareness and openness are not things we are born with, they are skills that need to be learned, practised, cultivated. Men raised in cultures and structures that glorify quiet fortitude, unflinching confidence, and unwavering strength will unsurprisingly be hesitant to speak up about their emotions.’’

Jon Kole, Medical Director and Senior Director of Psychiatry at Headspace Health 

Employers can help destigmatise thinking around mental health by facilitating a workplace culture where conversation around mental health (and physical health) is normalised and judgement free.

One way to achieve this kind of open culture is leading by example and storytelling. Helen Lake, Director of Men’s Health services at Peppy says: “Encouraging leaders within the business to be open about mental health – and any issues they or their family may have experienced – will also help to create an open and honest culture.”

Tex Bourton, Operational training manager at Grundon, and recipient of an ‘Unsung Hero’ commendation at the Make A Difference Awards, reiterates this need for psychological safety in his interview with us about the mental health conversation. When running his sessions he ensures to create a “safe space” for men, making sure to “reassure them that we’ll never pry and there’s no pressure to talk unless they want to.”

Read more: Safe spaces for men: the opportunity for employers to be a force for good

  1. Physical health support

Think about offering health support such as health screenings, workshops led by health professionals or access to health apps or services.

Employers could also encourage regular breaks for movement, provide healthy snack options or offer access to fitness facilities and ergonomic workstations  to help men prioritise physical health.

Read more: How can employers use physical health as a portal to good overall wellbeing?

  1. Supporting men’s mental health

Implement mental health support by providing access to mental health resources, such as stress management programmes or counselling, as well as encouraging open discussion around mental health to reduce associated stigma. Promotion of early intervention is also important here.

Companies could also encourage the development of support networks in the workplace, such as peer support groups or mental health champions who can provide confidential support and guidance.

“When you get groups of men together who are going through a similar problem, they actually really support each other. It’s about creating that platform to enable them to bounce off each other.”

Helen Lake, Peppy
  1. Substance abuse awareness

Given that, according to research by Mind, men are statistically more likely to use coping mechanisms that could be harmful, such as using drugs or alcohol, companies might consider providing education on substance abuse, access to counselling, and support for those struggling with addiction.

Read more: The last taboo: Addressing addiction and recovery in workplace wellbeing

  1. Flexible working

Offering flexible working conditions is another way employers can improve wellbeing for men at work, enabling them to attain a better work life balance. Flexible working can lead to reduced stress levels as well as increased job satisfaction. 

  1. Enhanced safety training

Regular, tailored and comprehensive safety training can help employees understand potential hazards and mitigate risk.

Employee engagement 

Once you have wellbeing strategies in place, actually engaging employees in those initiatives could be a further challenge. Here are a few strategies that may boost participation:

  • Incentivise healthy behaviours: Offer rewards for engaging in health screenings, fitness challenges, or mental health sessions.
  • Gamify health activities: Run competitions or challenges that make health initiatives fun and engaging for male employees. Ruth Pott, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at BAM, when speaking of their recent physical health initiative ‘Get BAM Moving’ says one of their biggest learnings is the ‘importance of making physical activity events fun.’
  • Leadership role modelling: Encourage male leaders to lead by example and actively participate to set a positive precedent for others.

Addressing men’s health as part of the wider wellbeing strategy

When trying to balance men’s health effectively with other workplace wellbeing concerns, it can be hard not to be seen as prioritising one need or group, above another. For a balanced strategy, a holistic and inclusive approach is needed. This could be achieved by:

  • Integrating men’s health into the broader wellbeing strategy: Rather than always isolating men’s health, try and integrate it into the broader wellbeing programme.
  • Providing equal access: Make sure that there is equal access to health resources and support. This might include making sure that health programmes are available to everyone and that specific issues relevant to different groups, including men, are addressed within these.
  • Tailoring programmes to diverse needs: While still promoting inclusive programs, make sure they are flexible enough to address the specific needs of diverse groups. This may include creating targeted sessions or resources as part of broader health support provision. Health concerns can vary widely even within gender groups based on factors like age, race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. Further tailoring might be needed to provide comprehensive support.

Investing in, and promoting men’s health in the workplace, is not just a ‘nice to have’, it’s an investment into the organisation itself. Proactively addressing and supporting the unique needs of male employees means employers can build a healthier, more productive, resilient workplace where all employees can thrive.

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