By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development and Marketing, Generali UK Employee Benefits
It’s not easy to get male employees to open up about mental health. Recent research for the Mental Health Foundation found that 35% of men suffering with poor mental health struggle on for at least two years without telling their friends or family – never mind their boss.
This unwillingness to talk about mental health issues is perhaps one reason men are so much more likely to commit suicide. Three-quarters of the 4,382 people who committed suicide in the UK in 2017 were male, as “has been the case since the mid-1990s”, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
So how can employers help male workers feel comfortable discussing their mental health?
First steps: starting the conversation
According to mental health charity Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index 2017-18, only half the 48% of workers who have experienced poor mental health in their current job have informed their employers.
But the workplace can be a great environment to proactively address mental health, if everyone within the business takes mental wellbeing seriously – from the top down.
The good news is that this is increasingly the case in well-run companies.
Barb Veder, Vice President at Total Wellbeing provider LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell, said: "Mental health has outgrown the stigma that once surrounded it.
“Companies are recognising the impact poor mental health can have on employees and their productivity.”
Offering managers training on how to deal with mental health issues is a great first step.
Tips on talking to an employee about mental health
Avoid interruptions – find a neutral place outside the office.
Ask simple open questions – encourage the employee to talk.
Be comfortable with some silences – try to be patient.
Avoid judgements and assumptions – ask the employee what could help.
Focus on the person – don’t amplify the problem.
Know where and how to signpost for support
“Mental health can’t be generalised, so it is important to take the time to get to know your team, notice changes, which might suggest a movement away from health and then ask them how they are and be prepared to listen,” commented Alison Pay, Managing Director at Mental Health at Work.
"Many line managers see their role as trying to solve the issue and this isn’t appropriate for mental health and might stop someone seeking the professional support that they need”
Next level: providing personalised support
There are few things in life more personal than your mental health. So, it’s important the assistance that employers provide reflects the needs of the employee they are trying to help.
This means recognising that diagnosed medical conditions are not the only problem. Everyday difficulties such as debt or divorce can also have an impact on workers’ mental wellbeing.
Jeanette Makings, Head of Financial Education at Close Brothers, said: “If unchecked, money worries can severely impact mental and physical health.”
Even within financial wellbeing, however, workers may be facing a huge range of different situations – from credit card debts to retirement savings. Close Brothers therefore designs its services to meet the diverse demands of a modern workforce.
“By working closely with employers to deliver hyper-personalised financial education, we are able to engineer healthier financial outcomes for employees in the short, medium, and long-term,” Makings added.
New approach: harnessing the power of technology
Some people – including many men – will never feel comfortable raising the subject of mental health in the workplace.
Luke Prankard, Enterprise Sales Manager at LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell, said: “Men in particular may fail to recognise warning signs or seek help.”
Anonymous hi-tech solutions are one way to offer support without making individuals feeling exposed.
Through the LifeWorks’ mobile app, for example, employees can access counselling, self-assessments designed to reveal stress and anxiety levels, and health & wellness coaching to help them take charge of their mental health.
Prankard said: “By using technology to enhance your reach, you can ensure you are helping your male employees when they need the support the most.”
3 reasons why male employees may need more support
Men account for 75% of suicides in the UK (ONS).
Male workers are less likely to seek medical help when their mental health suffers (Mental Health Foundation).
Male workers are more likely to feel shame and hide any struggle with their mental health (Men’s Health Forum).
Generali UK partners with LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell, Mental Health at Work and Close Brothers, along with a range of physical and emotional wellbeing specialists, as part of its Wellbeing Investment Matching and Early Intervention initiatives.