How employers can improve men’s health and wellbeing
Did you know that globally men die, on average, six years earlier than women? Or that in the UK 20% of men (that’s 1 in 5) will die before the age of 65?
Most of these deaths occur due to reasons that are largely preventable, so what’s behind these worrying figures?
What are the key issues behind poorer health in men?
There are a number of reasons why men tend to experience poorer health outcomes than women. These include:
Lower levels of health awareness
Men typically engage less with their health than women; they are less likely to talk about health issues with their friends or peers, tend to have much lower levels of symptom awareness and are less likely to make use of primary care and preventative services.
Culture and attitudes
Traditional beliefs around masculinity mean that men are more likely to delay seeking help for health problems, feeling that they should simply ‘man up’ and ‘just get on with things’. This means that they often don’t visit their doctor until a much later stage in an illness, when treatments are likely to be less effective.
Men tend to lead unhealthier lifestyles than women – 67% of men are overweight or obese, and men tend to smoke and drink more and at higher-risk levels than women. They are also more likely to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with mental health problems.
So, what can employers do to help improve men’s health and wellbeing?
With much of the male population failing to engage effectively with health services, employers can play a crucial role in helping to improve the health and wellbeing of working-age men.
1. Raising awareness among employees of the key health issues that disproportionately affect men…
Men have a much higher risk of developing diseases including cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and type 2 diabetes. The stats are sobering:
- 75% of premature deaths from coronary heart disease occur in males;
- men have a 37% higher risk of dying from cancer generally, and a 67% higher chance of dying from cancers that affect both men and women
- middle-aged men are twice as likely to develop diabetes and twice as likely to be undiagnosed.
Much of this has to do with education – men tend to be less motivated to seek out and use health-related information and are therefore less likely to know the risk factors or symptoms to look out for. Bringing this information to your male employees at work, for example through promoting or getting involved in national health awareness events like the annual Men’s Health Week or Movember, will create opportunities for them to engage with their health where they might not have done otherwise.
2. Equipping them with the tools and support they need to make positive lifestyle changes.
One of the reasons why men are more prone to developing preventable illnesses like stroke and heart disease is that they generally live unhealthier lifestyles than women, tending to drink and smoke more and at higher risk levels and eat less healthily.
A step on from providing your employees with information about men’s health issues is equipping them with the tools and support they need to start making positive lifestyle changes that will help to reduce their risks.
This could include:
- providing them with access to factsheets and top tips style advice on healthy eating and improving fitness
- running awareness days, workshops and interactive webinars on how to achieve better mental wellbeing or healthy drinking
- encouraging employees to be more physically active, for example by providing ‘active spaces’ at work, introducing ‘walking meetings’, offering discounted gym membership or running exercise-based team challenges or social events
- offering smoking cessation support sessions.
3. Actively tackle harmful stereotypes to help reduce stigma, especially around mental health.
Conventional gender roles serve to reinforce perceptions of men as strong and impervious to self-doubt or worry. However, men can be just affected by mental health problems like low mood, anxiety and depression as women. The problem is that because of these harmful stereotypes about how they should behave, they are much less likely to seek the support they need. With suicide being the biggest cause of death in men under 35 and 4 out of 5 suicides being committed by men, the importance of breaking down stigma and getting men to start talking more about their mental health is clear.
Normalising conversations around mental health and building an open and positive wellbeing culture within your workplace, for example through providing awareness training to all staff, will help to create an environment where every employee feels safe to open up about how they are feeling. Men also often respond better to self-help tools and peer-led initiatives. Providing workers with free access to online wellbeing apps, introducing a Mental Health First Aider or EAP, or setting up a men’s talking group could all help to encourage men to engage more with their mental health on their own terms and remove the barriers to them seeking help when they need it.
4. Signpost your employees to the free screening and preventative services available to them, or better yet, bring these services to them in the workplace.
The Men’s Health Forum provides lots of helpful information on how men can conduct their own simple ‘DIY Man MOT’ to help them stay in tune with their health, but from the age of 40 all men are also entitled to free midlife health check from the NHS every five years, to assess their risk factors for CVD, stroke and other common diseases, such as diabetes and kidney disease.
These checks can help to diagnose potential issues at an early stage so that appropriate interventions can be introduced to reduce the likelihood of more serious, life-threatening problems developing later on. However, uptake remains generally low. It’s therefore important to ensure your employees are aware of the free health screening available to them and encourage them to access it.
Alternatively, you may wish to work with your Occupational Health provider to offer lifestyle screening and health checks for employees at work. The added benefit of this is that you will be able to access aggregated health data for your workforce about the key health concerns across your organisation, so you can better target any future wellbeing initiatives to ensure they achieve greater impact.
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