Supporting male staff beyond Movember

As the month draws to a close, Dr Bernard Yew urges employers to focus on men’s health and wellbeing all year round

Credit: Catherine Lane/Getty Images

Even though men have had an entire month devoted to drawing attention to the specific health and wellbeing challenges they face, male employees are still twice as likely as female employees to feel that their employer doesn’t care about their wellbeing.

According to research commissioned for International Men’s Day, 16 per cent of men feel work provides little or no wellbeing support, compared to just 8 per cent of women. One in two also say that working for their employer has undermined their health or caused them to become sick. That is despite two-thirds of male employees believing their employer has responsibility for their health and wellbeing.

One of the reasons for this is that gendered stereotypes persist, with men sometimes seen to be less in need of emotional support at work, despite two-fifths (40 per cent) of men saying emotional worries are their biggest wellbeing concern.

Critical to transforming this is encouraging managers to make a habit of conducting ‘check-in chats’ with men, as well as women, to ask them how they are, instead of just talking about goals and targets. Although these conversations can feel a little awkward at first, 28 per cent of men say a supportive manager is important for helping them to stay healthy. Men are also much more likely to utilise support services at their managers’ suggestion, than if left to initiate asking for support themselves.

For example, EKFB, a joint venture of civil engineering and construction companies responsible for delivering 80km of Britain’s new high-speed HS2 railway, has been working with PAM OH to offer ‘choose to chat’ sessions to all new starters. These explain why mental health matters just as much as physical health, and where to go for support. As a result, 83 per cent now feel better equipped to discuss mental health.

When it comes to supporting physical wellbeing, EKFB is also running a ‘one small change’ initiative, encouraging employees to have a voluntary health check to find out their cholesterol and blood pressure and to think of a small but significant change they can make to improve this. Four in five (80 per cent) employees have taken part, providing valuable data insights to inform ongoing wellbeing strategies. Most importantly of all: “The proactive wellbeing support on offer is supporting our workforce to be as healthy as they can be and making them feel valued,” says Alison Crawley, head of health at EKFB.

This matters, because, at a time when skills shortages abound, our survey also shows that nearly two-thirds of male employees believe wellbeing support provided by their employer makes them less likely to want to work elsewhere. In terms of what this year-round support should look like, one in three men want a healthy work-life balance, one in five want access to mental health support and one in six say they want to exercise during the day.

Financial worries are the second biggest wellbeing worry after emotional health, with two-fifths of men saying their ability to manage finances is one of their biggest wellbeing challenges. This is closely followed by concerns about their weight, risk of developing cancer and not getting enough sleep.

Although these might seem like factors unrelated to the workplace, the long hours spent in work means employers have a vital role to play when it comes to supporting men to reduce health risks. This could be through enabling them to access healthy food during the day, with education on how to batch cook and quickly reheat healthy food, or encouraging them to go out during their lunch break to stay active. Simple finger-prick blood tests can even be offered to help men identify risk factors, such as diabetes and high cholesterol, which can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Given the extent to which men are less likely to be working flexibly, the workplace also has a role to play in making it easier for men to access healthcare. Forty-seven per cent of men find it difficult to access their doctor or GP, while 56 per cent have been personally affected by delays accessing NHS support. Add to that the general reluctance of men to see support and brush concerns aside, and it’s never been more important to make wellbeing support more accessible.

Occupational health services, ranging from virtual GP and physiotherapy services to onsite clinicians, now often cost less to fund than the cost of covering employee absence. Used in a preventative way they can even prevent men from developing problems in the first place.

Essential to success is creating a culture that celebrates health and wellbeing all year around, and ensuring that diversity in wellbeing continues to support the entire workforce.

Dr Bernard Yew is medical director at PAM OH