Men’s wellbeing is taking a hit. Here’s what employers can do.
There’s a good reason why this year’s Men’s Health Week (14-21 June) was about better health in a Covid world. The pandemic has put the challenge of the UK’s poor male health in the spotlight like never before.
At any given age, men are twice as likely to die of Covid-19 as women: a shocking headline statistic that illustrates a wider problem that has been festering largely unnoticed for years.
Do you know how many of your male staff will die before they’re old enough to retire? The answer is one in five. Twenty per cent of men die before the age of 65. When men make up over half the workforce, this is clearly a concern to all organisations.
What is men’s health?
The typical idea of men’s health conjures up images of aubergines and six packs. Younger men, if they’re lucky, might hear about testicular cancer, older guys about their growing prostates, but there’s far more to it. Testicular cancer is deadly serious but not responsible for those premature deaths (more men die of breast cancer than testicular cancer).
Most health problems faced by men are from diseases experienced by both sexes that unfortunately hit men harder.
Men’s health is about heart disease. Three-quarters of premature deaths from coronary heart disease are male. It kills more men than women and on average men develop it 10-15 years earlier.
Men’s health is about cancer. Men have a 37% higher risk of dying from cancer and a 67% higher chance of dying from cancers that affect both men and women.
And, men’s health is about mental health. Three-quarters of suicides are by men. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 50 and there has been a sharp increase among men aged 35-64.
Why is men’s health so poor?
This last example, suicide, illustrates the problem well. If we look at the statistics for treatment for mental health problems, they are almost a mirror image of those for suicide – women make up about two-thirds of those having talking treatments.
Very little of the difference between male and female life expectancy is biological. Most of the difference comes down to lifestyle, access to services and this thing we sometimes call ‘masculinity’.
To improve men’s health, organisations must:
- Make healthier lifestyle choices possible for all staff, especially men.
- Remove the barriers to men accessing health services (both those created by the services and those formed by men themselves)
- Talk about health in a way that plays upon the positive aspects of ‘masculinity’ such as providing for the family, rather than tropes around strength, suffering in silence and ignoring health concerns.
Men’s health begins at work
Rightly or wrongly, many men define themselves by their work and spend a lot of time doing it. This means that any men’s health makeover needs to start at work.
Men are less likely to see a GP than women, right?
Not quite. Retired men are as likely to see a GP as retired women. The difference is among men of working age – it’s not about men, it’s about work.
Men are more likely to work full-time and so are less able to access services that are only open in working hours. (It’s not just GPs. Working men are also less likely to visit a pharmacy with 31% getting their partner to collect their prescriptions.)
So, how can we start to solve the problem that is men’s health? Here are some simple steps organisations can take.
- Audit your resources – how many are designed with men in mind? Count the images of men. It won’t take long.
- Men and women engage with healthcare differently – talk to men with a little irreverence and humour.
- Language matters – mention ‘men’ specifically in the copy but also think about ‘male-friendly’ words. Men may admit to being ‘under stress’ rather than to experiencing ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’. They might prefer to think about ‘benefits’ or ‘perks’ instead of ‘healthcare’.
- Men are a diverse group – they don’t all like football, may not be stereotypically ‘manly’ and may not even outwardly appear male. Be inclusive to all who identify as male.
- Make services easy-to-use, convenient, confidential and most of all anonymous – research suggests these increase the man’s sense of autonomy and therefore increase engagement.
- Consider digital solutions – men may be more open to a virtual relationship with health professionals, particularly as long hours, weekends and shift patterns all reduce access to NHS services.
- For example, Peppy’s new ‘Peppy Men’ service, launching this autumn, will connect users via a secure, mobile app to leading men’s health practitioners anytime, anywhere, anonymously.
- Men’s health organisations like the Men’s Health Forum are increasingly encouraging talking and listening. Movember suggest the anagram ALEC (Ask, Listen, Encourage Action and Check-in) for tough conversations.
- Set time aside for catch-ups that are non-work-related for all colleagues, including men.
- This is particularly important when working remotely – anonymous surveys may help you understand how colleagues really feel.
- Ensure you support employees through networks around disability, age, gender, race, etc – make it clear this stuff isn’t ‘soft’. It matters.
- Don’t forget to ask your colleagues what they want.
Use healthy competition.
- Non-health related events, like sponsored runs or sports days, raise awareness and get people talking about health in a more informal context.
- Take advantage of male competitiveness to encourage healthy lifestyle choices – competition between teams, leader boards, etc.
Lead by example.
- Don’t tell men to talk and then not do it yourself – male leaders in the organisation talking about their challenges can demolish stigma.
- Practice what you preach when it comes to a healthy working culture – around, for example, answering emails or taking leave or even lunch.
- Use the services yourself to challenge any notion that seeking help is a sign of weakness.
To learn more about a new digital healthcare solution designed specifically to support male wellbeing, ‘Peppy Men’, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Pollard is editor of menshealthforum.org.uk and author of Men’s Health (Haynes, 2020)