MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Ford Motor Company Helps Men Cope With Becoming New Fathers

Ford’s Elephant in the Transit video has become one of those iconic adverts that’s embedded in my memory. The message it sent rang so true: “Lots of men still struggle to talk about their mental health. Together we can help change that.”

It’s an inspiring message that has hopefully helped to change attitudes and has maybe even saved lives.

So, I was keen to learn more about another plan that Ford has put in place to support men’s mental health. Or more specifically, to help new Dads to be aware of and adapt to the stresses of parenting life.

Research shows that 25% of men suffer from postnatal depression in the first 3 to 6 months after their child is born. That’s almost twice the rate of depression normally seen in men. 1 in 10 expectant fathers will also become depressed during their partner’s pregnancy. First-time fathers, men under 25, and those with a history of mental health issues are particularly vulnerable.

Lara Nicoll, Ford Motor Company’s UK Diversity and Inclusion Lead, took the time to explain the origins of their paternity programme and how it works in practice.

Starting the conversation

Ford UK’s proactive approach to supporting mental health and wellbeing started several years ago. Lara explained to me that even though mechanisms were in place to support mental health, colleagues still weren’t talking about it. Ford UK’s Managing Director, Andy Barratt and Debbie Francis who is a Senior HR Business Partner, realised that they needed to find a way to open the conversation.

Talking to different departments, they found that they were pushing at an open door. Their initial outreach grew into a movement with grassroots momentum. In 2018, Ford launched the “Elephant in the Transit” campaign with the Time to Change organisation to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace.

This led to broad signposting of resources and a general breaking down of stigma.

The birth of an idea

Ford of Britain is a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Working Forward campaign, which encourages the adoption of flexible working. It also encourages the support of maternity and paternity rights in the workplace.

In the UK, Ford was already offering maternity workshops covering: flexible work options, statutory entitlement and wellbeing.

However, it became clear that for men the transition to fatherhood is also really important. Whether it’s due to lack of sleep, money worries or new responsibilities, many men struggle to cope with all the challenges a new-born brings. They not only need to adapt themselves – they also need to support their partner.

What began as an information session on parenting policies has now expanded to include the psychological aspects of becoming a dad, how to support one’s partner and how to build a family support network. Expectant fathers are informed about postnatal depression and how best to cope with mental health issues. The programme is facilitated with the co-chair of the Ford Parents Network, who is a trained mental health first aider.

The goal is to provide more psychological support to help men make the transition to fatherhood. As part of the workshops, new dads also try on a pregnancy suit, which gives an insight into how their partners may be feeling, carrying the weight of a baby. Ford UK has also been piloting a buddy scheme which links an existing father with a first-time parent.

First-time fathers, men under 25 and those with a history of mental health issues are particularly vulnerable. Ford’s paternity workshops take place three times a year and are part of the company’s gender and diversity strategy. As well as workshops and access to a 24-hour helpline, parents and parents-to-be in the UK and Germany can seek assistance from the Ford Parent Network. This is an open forum for parents to share advice and information.

Lara explained: “Many new dads have no idea that men suffer from postnatal depression. There is a tendency to bottle up emotions, stay silent or simply withdraw into themselves, to the point their work and family life suffer beyond repair.”

“Creating an environment where men can talk openly about their anxiety enables them to feel less isolated and become the dads they want to be.”

It’s great to see a major employer taking such a proactive and preventative approach to supporting wellbeing. Becoming a new Dad is also one of the triggers that global men’s health charity Movember has identified can prompt a shift from average to poor mental health. Find out more in our interview with Movember’s Founder JC.

About the author

Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times