Helping men to open up about mental health

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Mental ill health can of course affect anyone, irrespective of age, gender or status. But men, especially those working in a ‘macho’ or competitive environments, can often struggle to open up, to say they need help and support. But, in conjunction with occupational health, there is much employers can do to make a difference, argues Phil Austin.

Tackling how we address male mental health in the workplace is crucial, particularly because men are less likely to ask for help.

Our research at Cigna shows that more than half of men (66%) suffer from work-related stress; with 13% of them citing their stress as unmanageable, yet only 12% have spoken to a professional about it.

About the author

Phil Austin is chief executive of Cigna Europe

We also know that work-related stress can affect performance, with stressed-out employees often seen to be less engaged, motivated and consequently less productive at work. Add to this the fact that work-related stress, anxiety or depression is estimated to account for more than half of all working days lost due to ill health in the UK, costing the UK economy a staggering £37bn each year.

Stress triggers vary by demographic and gender and, whilst there is no magic wand that can resolve workplace stress overnight, there are ways businesses can help tackle key triggers within the workplace.

For example, our research has found that men are more likely to work in an always-on culture (53% men versus 44% women) and are less likely to have a reasonable workload and working hours than females (68% men versus 73% women).

Talk and support

Mental health issues can affect any individual indiscriminately, regardless of age or status, and it is important that employers take a more active role in their workers’ mental health.

Simply having a conversation about what’s going on in people’s lives can ease the burden of stress and is often the best and easiest way to tackle the problem. Employees can also make a real difference in supporting their colleagues by recognising the early warning signs of a mental health issue.

A good place for employers to start is to implement an employee wellness programme. Despite mental health awareness being at an all-time high in the UK, alarmingly, only a quarter (28%) of UK employers have a formal wellness programme in place to support their staff and, for the ones that do, engagement in these programmes is worryingly low.

There is also scope for senior management to increase their commitment, and fully support workplace wellness. But creating a well-run wellness programme and implementing it effectively requires a detailed understanding of key stress drivers inside and out of the workplace.

As our research shows, each gender and demographic experiences stress triggers differently and, if they are to be encouraged to participate in different activities to relieve stress, employers need to be able to formulate and adapt their approach to make wellness programmes work for everyone.

This will not only improve peoples’ engagement in their overall wellness but significantly boost the health, wellbeing and peace of mind of the workforce. Awareness, education, engagement and access are all fundamental when it comes to keeping the workforce in the best of health.

At Cigna, for example, we ensure that customers can easily access support when they need it. Whether it’s the convenience of virtual GP appointments, online self-help CBT programmes, health and wellbeing assessments with stress-related support programmes or being able to self-refer for care relating to any type of mental health concern.

Fast access to care and early intervention is vital for mental health concerns and customers who call our team, where appropriate, are fast-tracked to treatment.

This early intervention can prevent mental health issues from getting worse, reduce the cost of treatment and help them return to work quickly.

Recognising mental ill health in men

While there is a huge opportunity for employers to play a more active role in shaping the culture of their business, encouraging staff to speak openly about their mental health benefits everyone and is another key element of creating a best practice wellness programme.

Understanding therefore that men are just as vulnerable as women to stress, anxiety and other forms of poor mental health is the first step to fighting this battle. Encouraging men to share their problems, specifically in the workplace, will help fortify the future of mental health awareness.

Tailoring mental health support by gender is key – and there are differences. Many men, for example, work in environments where a ‘macho’ culture prevails or where a competitive environment may exist that prevents them from feeling able to be open.

Therefore, the benefit of implementing a wellness programme extends far beyond simply “looking after” your team. Communication has to be an ongoing commitment from top down, to educate, make people aware and give easy access, regardless of whether people work onsite or remotely.

Your company will be more attractive to top talent, be able to boost employee retention, and crucially, improve morale. This will not only create a competitive edge but also set your business up to create a more nurturing and caring culture to the benefit of everyone.

Work-related stress and mental illness now accounts for over half of work absences, Daily Telegraph, 1 November 2018,

‘Sick Staff Cost The UK Economy £77.5 Billion a Year’,

2019 Cigna 360 Well-being Survey Well & Beyond,

Eight in 10 Brits say workplace impacted by stressed out co-workers, Cigna, May 2019,

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