By Mark Richards.
There has been much made recently of ‘wellness in the workplace.’ But very little specific attention paid to men – who are far more prone to suicide and addiction than women. Should we do more to tackle ‘men’s wellness?’ And what are the warning signs bosses and colleagues should look out for?
When I popped the phrase ‘wellness in the workplace’ into Google yesterday, I got 121m results. When I altered it very slightly to ‘men’s wellness in the workplace’ the number of results dropped dramatically – to just 6m, or 5% of the original result.
Should we, from that entirely unscientific experiment, conclude that men’s wellness at work is not taken as seriously as it should be? Especially when ‘women’s wellness’ returns nearly 20m results – and rather more ominously, ‘men’s depression’ returns 110 million?
We don’t all live in London…
Two weeks ago there was an upbeat story in City AM: ‘Men’s wellness start-up Hims lands in the City for its UK launch.’
US company Hims is coming to the UK, and – apparently – partnering with a well-known pharmacy chain to help with the launch.
What does Hims do? Treat those things we would probably prefer not to have to treat at all: baldness, looking older than we are, not getting enough vitamins and – there is no need for a coy euphemism, even on a Monday morning – erectile dysfunction.
Hims founder and chief executive Andrew Dudum was upbeat about launching in London:
“There’s a demographic of men here,” he said, “Who are exceptionally highly educated and affluent. But there is also a high stigma around sexual wellness issues.”
Affluent might be the right word: when I went on the Hims website I saw that I can treat baldness – my hair is going a little thin at the back – for $28.50 (£22). Treating any problems in the bedroom was a rather more eye-watering $425 (£329).
That may be fine for a merchant banker with a hot date, but the vast majority of us neither live in London nor describe ourselves as affluent. But Andrew Dudum is right – there is a stigma not just around sexual wellness, but around the whole of men’s mental health.
The depressing numbers
The numbers regarding men’s health really are depressing…
- Just over (76%) of UK suicides are by men, and suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 35
- Men are nearly three times more likely than women to be alcohol dependent
- There are now more than 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK – with men approximately 7.5 times more likely to be addicted to gambling than women
- Men are far more likely to use (and die from) illegal drugs: men are far more likely than women to end up sleeping rough – and yet men are far less likely than women to access any form of psychological therapy.
- Only 36% of referrals to the NHS initiative Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies are men.
Clearly, it is about far more than keeping a full head of hair and keeping your wife happy. But if men will not take action to look after their own mental health – machismo is alive and well, as is the phrase ‘man up’ – could it effectively become the job of their employer? Or their friends?
Mental health in the workplace
It is now widely acknowledged that mental health is one of the biggest issues facing HR departments. A lot of the problems mentioned above start off as stress, as simply not being able to cope – and we look for a way out.
So what are the signs of stress at work?
It is a simple statement, but the biggest sign is a change in behaviour. This might manifest itself through mood swings, someone become more withdrawn, a loss of motivation, commitment and confidence and increased emotional responses: for example, someone being more tearful or aggressive.
Thinking back to the time in my own life when I was under the most stress – which lasted for about 12 months – I would absolutely endorse that. I was de-motivated, I did lose confidence and commitment and yes, I remember losing my patience with a particularly inept PowerPoint presentation and making my feelings very clear…
As well as hurling abuse at PowerPoint slides, how else does stress manifest itself? Someone may take more time off, they may arrive for work later or they may appear ‘twitchy or nervous’ (in the words of the Health and Safety Executive).
Can HR help?
Of course, the human resources department can help – assuming that your company has an HR department. It is fine if you work for a big company or a large public sector organisation. There will definitely be an HR department and there should – at least in theory – be help available to you.
But millions of us do not work for large companies or organisations. There are roughly 32.5m people employed in the UK. But there are also just under 6m small businesses which – depending on which estimate you read – employ anywhere between 16m and 20m people. Quite clearly only a tiny percentage of these SMEs are going to have HR departments.
Add in the fact that the gig economy dictates many of us are juggling two or three jobs and, very clearly, managing stress, mental health and its inevitable consequences becomes a job for all of us.
…Which means we need to take care of ourselves, and we need to take care of our friends. And that the average guy needs to be prepared to talk about his problems. It still makes headlines when a celebrity speaks openly about mental health, but too many men are suffering in silence.
So what can we do? Not for one moment would I pretend that a simple list is the answer, but we have to start somewhere. So talk to someone: get out in the fresh air and get some exercise: make sure you eat properly: try and avoid too much alcohol: laugh – and remember that despite all the negative headlines, there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Which we will look at on Friday…