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Four ways to tackle the silent mental health crisis among male employees

Written by Liz Walker on Wednesday, 13 June 2018. Posted in Wellbeing, People

Men are less likely than women to seek help when they suffer from mental health issues, despite being more likely to experience work-related issues. So what can employers do to close the gender gap in mental health support?

Four ways to tackle the silent mental health crisis among male employees

According to Mind, the organisation championing better mental healthcare, men are more likely to experience work-related mental health problems. However, recent Unum UK data shows young male employees are the demographic least likely to seek support.

Of total mental health claims, only 7% were made by men under 30, compared to 12%for women in the same age group. The disclosure gap doubles between age 30 and 40, with only 14% of mental health claims coming from men, compared with 30% from women.

This suggests there are gender differences when it comes to men and women’s experience of mental health.

Here are four actions every business can take to help ensure workplace mental health strategies support men and women equally.

Upskill line managers

Spotting the early signs of mental health issues and taking quick action can play a critical role in preventing short-term emotional difficulties becoming a long-term mental illness.

Line managers are in a great position to spot subtle changes in behaviour or performance of an employee. Moreover, they’re also the most likely to receive a disclosure of a mental health problem.

However, Unum research shows only 10% of line managers feel they have received sufficient training to assist in these situations.

It’s essential employers provide the necessary tools and time to help identify, manage and prevent poor mental health at work. Upskilling line managers to provide support during periods of distress can also enable HR and occupational health to be informed of more complex cases, when their additional support may be needed.

Inviting mental wellbeing experts to deliver workshops; offering online training modules on stress awareness and signing managers up to mental health first aid training are additional ways to promote proactive support networks.

Champion mental health

Unum UK research, in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation, found only 54% of employees choosing to disclose a mental health issue had a positive experience.

Increasing disclosure rates and overcoming negativity are some of the most complex challenges in addressing mental health at work. For too long stigma and taboos have fueled fear and misunderstanding around mental illness.

Disclosure of a mental health problem is, for many people, considered as different to disclosure of other health concerns. This is especially true for young men who can feel pressure to conform to ‘tough’ or ‘macho’ stereotypes in an inherently competitive work environment.

This is where mental health champions can play an important role, offering a touch-point on the ground. By appointing an even mix of both male and female champions – who are different ages and levels of seniority – all staff will feel more confident in disclosing problems and gaining advice on how to seek support.

Consider data-led wellbeing strategies

Only 9% of HR teams review the valuable data collected from Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), yet as with most business processes, data analysis can improve outcomes and increase ROI of wellbeing programmes.

Records collected from the use of workplace wellbeing benefits, as well as absence rates, can offer valuable insights into at-risk employee groups and the effectiveness of current programmes.

For example,by reviewing annual claims for Unum UK’s Group Income Protection Insurance, we were able to recognise men under 40 were making far fewer claims for their mental health than their female colleagues.

HR teams should follow a similar approach to retailers who manage consumer loyalty programs, using internal statistics to understand employee uptake, engagement, and satisfaction through data analysis.

These insights can then be translated into actionable steps to create proactive and reactive strategies to better protect at-risk employees in the future.

Be mindful of your employees' lifestyle choices

According to an NHS report, men are almost three times more likely than women to drink alcohol at a hazardous level, which could be used as a form of self-medication for emotional distress. The highest levels of alcohol reliance are found in men between the ages of 25 and 34.

Every corporate wellbeing strategy should include a focus on wider lifestyle choices which can impact employee mental health. These include: drinking alcohol excessively, not getting enough quality sleep, being physically inactive and not having a balanced diet.

However, it can be difficult to drive behaviour change for things people do outside of work. Men, especially, need more encouragement to engage with workplace health incentives focused on self-care.

Top-down leadership from senior male members of staff, as well as on-the-ground encouragement from line managers and mental health champions, can increase uptake in things like EAPs, exercise programmes and mindfulness courses.

To take the fear or embarrassment out of participating in self-care initiatives, consider offering some male and female-only programmes for sensitive topics, tailored to gender-unique needs and challenges.

It’s employers’ responsibility to ensure wellbeing strategies protect every employee equally and account for the unique differences in how men and women experience mental health.

This isn’t just essential for the good health of your workforce, the associated increases in job performance, productivity and retention will benefit your business too.

About the Author

Liz Walker

Liz Walker

In her time at Unum UK, the employee benefits provider, Liz Walker has spearheaded work to remove the stigma of mental health in the workplace and actively works to help raise awareness of mental health as an asset and an integral part of a holistic health and wellbeing strategy.

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