Are We Approaching Men’s Health in the Workplace Properly?
1 in 5 men die before the age of 65.
Whilst life expectancy in the UK is far from bad, when it comes to male life expectancy, there is a discrepancy.
On average, men die nearly four years earlier than women, and statistics also indicate that men are less likely to visit their doctor or seek help than women.
These factors don’t exist purely outside of work.
One of the reasons cited for men’s reluctance to avoid seeking out help is ‘being too busy’.
How are we approaching men’s health in the workplace, and what needs to change?
We’d like to preface some statistics by saying we’re not trying to put the fear of God into any men reading this or to give a pessimistic outlook.
These statistics from the Men’s Health Forum are to add some context as to why men’s health should be a high priority.
– 15% of premature deaths from heart disease are male
– 67% of men are overweight or obese
– Middle-aged men are twice as likely to have diabetes as women
– 4 out of 5 suicides are male
Men are also more likely to:
– Smoke (and smoke more)
– Eat too much salt and red meat
– Eat too little fruit and veg
– Drink to dangerous levels (and also twice as likely to have liver disease)
– Have a poorer understanding of health (e.g., common symptoms of cancer or information relating to medicines)
Conditions such as andropause – also referred to as ‘male menopause – are also impacting up to 30% of men in their 50s, including symptoms such as loss of muscle mass, mood swings, fat redistribution, difficulty sleeping, and poor concentration.
Yet how often do we even hear about andropause, let alone men experiencing it?
But what does this all mean?
Put simply, men have a lot of risk factors and a higher prevalence of certain health conditions to contend with, combined with a reluctance to take time off work or seek help for their health.
There are also complex social factors and gender norms to consider – the belief that men should prioritise work over their health, or that they can’t take time off and be seen as ‘weak’.
A study by the National Pharmacy Association found that 90% of men said that they didn’t want to trouble their GP unless they thought there was a serious problem.
With men spending so much of their life at work, surely it follows that this is an issue that is just as relevant to the workplace.
What is it that’s holding back men’s health?
There are a lot of embedded attitudes that need to be addressed and challenged to make men’s health a priority not just in the workplace, but in wider society.
For example, health can often be associated with femininity – think of the magazines and articles that are constantly aimed at women correlating health with superficial beauty, and as a result, usually weight loss.
This strong emphasis on health being associated with femininity, particularly weight loss, can be detrimental to men, given that men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women.
This might seem irrelevant, yet if men feel as though this doesn’t concern them or that they are excluded, they likely won’t see it as an issue and definitely won’t seek help for it.
A study into body image attitudes in the UK has indicated that 54% of men show signs of body dysmorphia, which shows that this is not an issue exclusive to women.
Similarly, in the workplace, there can often be an attitude that work takes priority over health.
So, what can be done about it?
How can men’s health become a priority in the workplace?
Do you think that men in your workplace feel comfortable taking time off when necessary?
Do you think that men in your workplace even recognise when they should take time off?
If you’re unsure, it’s likely that there’s a cultural shift that might need to occur before anything else.
– Step 1: raise awareness
What good is offering help or having great options available if nobody knows about them?
Whether you’re offering free gym memberships, on-site counselling, or simply signposting to external forms of support such as hotlines, you need to be raising awareness of the support you offer.
It’s not sufficient to offer these benefits if people aren’t using them.
There is also the potential to have workshops and events relating to men’s health that could cover recognising symptoms, where further information and support are available, and other areas that employees may be interested in.
– Step 2: encourage a culture shift
Overworking and feeling unable to seek help are key contributors to ill health for men.
Changing this starts from the top in the workplace, taking the time and effort to remove the potential barriers to a better approach to men’s health, such as:
– Overtime, weekend working, or awkward shift patterns
– Prioritising output over the individual employee (e.g., a culture in which an employee would rather work through being unwell rather than take time off)
– A lack of anonymous options for support (e.g., are there only face-to-face options available, rather than online, anonymous ones?)
– Key figures in the workplace adding to the stigma around men’s health (e.g., referring to health as ‘feminine’ or a ‘female issue’ or using stigmatising language such as telling people to ‘man up’.)
– Step 3: be actively involved
Are employees encouraged to actively discuss their health?
Even on platforms such as LinkedIn, employers may treat men’s health as being a private issue, rather than something that is common and should be openly discussed.
Raising awareness, changing workplace culture, and offering valuable support will all be more significant if everyone in the workplace is actively involved.
This could even mean getting a charitable organisation on board for any initiatives, or simply encouraging senior staff to openly share their own experience to inspire others to do so.
If not now… when?
Men’s health isn’t an issue that can be swept under the rug or an issue that will disappear with time.
Workplaces can significantly and positively impact men’s health by raising awareness and creating an environment in which men feel as though they can openly talk about their health and seek help.