Men at Work: how bosses can lead the way in supporting men’s health

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The Movember men’s health awareness campaign has once again exposed the inequalities in health provision and differences between men and women when it comes to looking after themselves.

It’s a familiar story.

Globally men die on average six years earlier than women, and for reasons that are largely preventable.

Research shows that men make up three-quarters of cardiovascular deaths, are 26% more likely to have type 2 diabetes, and are more susceptible to conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity than women.

“And yet, it doesn’t have to be this way,”explains Helen Lake, director of men’s health services at Peppy.“Employers especially can take action to ensure men lead healthier, happier and longer lives.”

The Movember campaign helps to highlight inequalities in men’s health – here’s how employers can address them in the workplace.

The biggest killers of men

Men’s health awareness campaigns not only shed light on physical and mental health illnesses directly affecting men.

They also highlight the need for greater understanding and support of issues affecting a key demographic in the UK workforce – and the need to keep conversation about men’s health and wellbeing going all year round.

Businesses that do take active steps to target male employees and encourage them to address health issues head-on – by providing proactive programmes of support and advice – aren’t only more likely to attract and retain key personnel. They can also play a major role in re-setting the survival odds of future generations.

Currently 1 in 5 men will die before retirement. Of those that are in work, men are  67% more likely to die from cancer – which impacts both men and women of course.  And whilst females are statistically more prone to suffer from depression, men are nearly twice as likely as women to take their own lives because of it.

Heart disease is the biggest killer of UK men of working age – while suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50.

Preventable conditions such as lung cancer continue to feature high in the list of biggest killers too.

It doesn’t have to be this way

A well-established reason as to why men don’t live longer stems from their reluctance to engage with health services. In short, chaps put off going to see their GP until they can no longer ignore symptoms, therefore getting diagnosed later.

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Some men just don’t like asking for help. Or else feel that they have to be seen as invulnerable.

For others the time-consuming inconvenience of trying to get an appointment with a GP is off-putting enough for them to grin and bear whatever’s troubling them. Often with tragic results.

But this means a significant chunk of the workforce is taking unnecessary risks with their health – often sacrificing their happiness and wellbeing by simply not addressing treatable symptoms.

Businesses should offer accessible support

“It’s clear that with the health system struggling, and men especially failing to engage with existing provision, there’s a greater need for support to come from different places,” explains Helen Lake.

“Men need access to health support that’s convenient to them – whether they work from home, on-site at a building site, on the road or in the office.”

Key to breaking down male inhibitions when it comes to health are easy-to-use and confidential options. Ideally with access to specialists in men’s health areas such as erectile dysfunction.

Research shows that when this kind of service is available it increases the man’s sense of autonomy and therefore ramps up engagement. “Support also needs to be accessible at any time, not just in working hours,” adds Helen.

“This is why digital solutions can be so useful,” adds Lake. “At Peppy we’ve seen first hand how access to exactly this is helping to engage this hard-to-reach group of reluctant males.”

 “Men can be more open to a virtual relationship with health professionals, particularly as long hours, weekends and shift patterns all reduce their access to NHS services.”

Speak men’s language

Organisations looking to offer male employees health packages need to tailor the promotion of these with men in mind.

Because everyone engages with their health differently there is no-one-size-fits-all approach. Where possible bosses need to give employees access to support which can be personalised to them and their situation.

Provision for both men and women – including specialists in areas such as menopause and fertility – will help ensure that the need of the organisation’s entire workforce is met. This is pertinent to men in particular, many of whom feel that the current health provision in the UK is more geared-up for women.

An example of this is the language used around men’s issues. “When talking about health with men, the language needs to be tailored to ensure they engage with it,” insists Lake.

“Understanding that men in particular may use terms such as being ‘under stress’ rather than saying that they’re experiencing ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ is key to this too.”

Education is key

Organisations should also make use of existing men’s health awareness campaigns – such as Movember – and promote them within the workplace to drive conversations and sign-post male employees to support groups.

“Encouraging healthier lifestyles in the workplace, promoting walking or exercise groups and tapping into that competitive male trait to do so can nurture a more health-focused culture,” adds Lake.

“Identifying key staff who could act as men’s health champions in the business – and training them to support colleagues and promote health awareness can help break down barriers too.”

This can be especially effective when confronting mental health issues.

Whilst men and women can both suffer with mental health issues – and more women report doing so – 75% of all suicides are by men.

“A top down approach may be the best way to take on the taboo of talking about mental health in the office,” says Lake. “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.”

Using some or all of the previously mentioned tools – from digital, confidential support right through to in-house men’s health champions – can be especially effective in opening up conversations around mental health.

“Implementing these actions in your workplace will help ensure that all members of the business know the signs of a colleague who’s struggling with their mental health and where to go for further support should they need it.”

Download the Movember 22: Men’s Health Support Toolkit for HR

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