June is Men’s Heath Month and includes Men’s Health Week. That makes it a perfect time for employers, assisted by occupational health professionals, to focus on what really works when it comes to encouraging men to engage with their health and wellbeing, argues Helen Lake.
This month (June) is Men’s Health Month and this week (13-19 June) is Men’s Health Week. As our focus shifts, it’s worth considering why there needs to be a month dedicated to the health of male colleagues.
Male health does not just refer to common, male-specific conditions relating to ‘penis, pipes and prostate’, but also to the bigger picture – lifestyle, mental health, heart health and physical health.
Statistics relating to men’s health are stark, showing that 75% of premature deaths from heart disease are in males and in England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety.
Looking at lifestyle, 67% of men are overweight or obese, which has huge implications for heart health and incidence of diabetes.
Whether it’s because men are more reluctant to visit their GP or undergo health checks, or simply that they don’t have the time, it’s no surprise that men’s health issues are having a huge impact on the workplace, with a knock-on effect on performance and productivity. So, what can be done, and what role can occupational health therapists play?
The problem with men’s health
Macho attitudes. A major barrier to men accessing health support is common beliefs around masculinity, that the breadwinner can’t be seen to be taking time off work and hasn’t got time to be ill.
This engenders a macho culture of stiff upper lip, dismissing niggles with a “boys don’t cry” attitude. Our recent research showed that 37% of employers say that one of the main issues when trying to manage men’s health issues in the workplace is their unwillingness to seek help.
Engagement with their health. Compared to women, men have far fewer touchpoints with the healthcare system. This has significant implications for men who have health concerns, as they are not used to explaining how they feel or describing symptoms.
Not only do men engage less with the solutions to their health issues, but they are less likely than women to acknowledge they even have a health issue, visiting their GP half as frequently as women.
The evidence is that men do worry about their health, but don’t know how to access support – maybe because the messaging is not aimed at them. So, it’s important for people working in occupational health to ensure messages are aimed specifically at men and their concerns.
Work-life balance. Broadly speaking, men work longer hours than women and are less able to access healthcare available.
According to the Men’s Health Forum, men spend far more of their lives in the workplace and are twice as likely to work full time.
Alongside this, men are also developing many serious illnesses earlier than women – 10 to 15 years earlier in the case of heart disease, for example.
Lack of male-specific checks. Throughout their lives, women have up to four-times as many touchpoints with their GP than men.
The language of most healthcare programmes speak to women rather than men and the checks that are available and relevant to male staff are not widely publicised. And if messaging doesn’t feel relevant to men, they are less likely to follow it up.
The outcomes can be serious. A combination of unhealthy lifestyle, poor physical and mental health and a lack of interaction with healthcare means that ultimately one in five men will die before their 65th birthday. Men’s health is a serious issue.
It’s via the workplace that it can best be tackled, so those working in occupational health have a vital role to play.
What can organisations do?
Lead by example. Encouraging senior business leaders to speak out with their own health stories will help to normalise the conversation around these issues of masculine health.
If role models are seen to be actively engaging with the health support on offer, whether this is workshops, screening programmes or health checks, this will further underline the normality and accessibility of health care.
Offer education and training. Raising awareness at every level can set the tone across the company. Men’s health problems – particularly issues like erectile dysfunction and mental health – are subject to scrutiny and stigma, so it’s important for employers to make information accessible in a way that combats the embarrassment factor.
Ways to do this can include:
- Share regular men’s health handouts such as, ’10 things you should see your doctor about’ or ‘5 free health checks and when you should have them’.
- Host men’s health check-ups in the workplace, to make it easy for staff to engage.
- Set up webinars on specific health topics with health professionals.
- Big campaigns about alcohol and smoking don’t always reach men but doing smaller targeted campaigns like offering a ‘Man MOT’ can work much better.
- Consider investing in a men’s health champion or offering staff ‘man-bassador’ training, so colleagues have someone to speak to about their issues in confidence.
- Set up men-only talking groups, not specifically about health, to open conversation about staff wellbeing and happiness in an informal setting.
- Involve women in the conversation too – often female friends, family members and partners will encourage men to get health checks.
- Keep language accessible – for example, refer to ‘stress’ and ‘burnout’ rather than ‘mental health’.
Turn to digital for specialist care. The virtual world is opening the door for men to have easier access to specialist healthcare. Digital health solutions like apps are a great way of giving male colleagues access to a whole host of health support at the touch of a button, day or night.
Leading employers are choosing to add health apps to their wellbeing benefits, enabling colleagues to connect one-to-one to a team of men’s health experts, including nutritionists, urologists and mental health experts.
Provide accessible, anonymous support. Men are more likely to utilise healthcare services when they can do so anonymously. Therefore, any support offered by workplaces must be anonymous and discreet to improve uptake among male staff.
The more employers and occupational health can do to normalise the conversation around men’s health and provide easy access to high-impact healthcare tools, the more possible it will become to prevent ailments from becoming serious”
Employers and those working in occupational health should look for men’s health benefits that can be accessed remotely, 24 hours a day, so that even men working shifts or long hours can get the help they need at the time that suits them, with as few barriers as possible.
Support the whole person. Years of supporting men in a clinical setting has showed me that, often, the gateway for men to engage with their health is via lifestyle – exercise, diet and nutrition, for example.
For this reason, employers must offer holistic men’s health support and give male colleagues access to a team of health experts that can work together to get to the heart of a problem – which can sometimes be something the person hasn’t even considered.
Healthy minds and healthy bodies should go hand in hand. Common health problems like obesity and low testosterone can be managed effectively with lifestyle support, and often it’s by opening up about their lifestyle that men find the confidence to open up about their physical and mental health.
Employers should prioritise offering support which is relevant to every man, in some way, and which takes a whole-person approach.
In sum, a healthier, happier workplace is possible for men. The more employers and those working in occupational health can do to normalise the conversation around men’s health and provide easy access to high-impact healthcare tools, the more possible it will become to prevent ailments from becoming serious – a win-win for both employee and employer.