· Features

Male anxiety in the workplace must be addressed

2.8 million working days were lost because of work-related stress, anxiety and depression in 2018-19, official data has shown. But this problem isn't confined to women

There is a stereotype that men have an innate confidence around work and everything comes easy to them in the workplace. But more men are beginning to report anxiety at work.

Men's Health magazine recently surveyed 1,200 male workers, and almost half (44%) said they'd struggled with anxiety at work. When asked what was most likely to prevent them talking to a manager about their mental wellbeing 'personal embarrassment' came out on top.

It is yet not in the psyche of all men to seek help or ’talk to someone’. Women are more likely to speak out, while some men act out.

Male depression is often called 'hidden depression’ or ‘masked depression’. That is to say they often do not know they are depressed, rather they compensate for their moods by drinking more or taking drugs, or are in risky and self-harming behaviour.

It’s important to acknowledge that the rate of male suicide is three times that of women. Almost 70% of suicides in 2017 were middle-aged white men. They may do it because they feel it’s the answer to their problems, not a problem in itself.

There is a reluctance from employers and employees to get involved with people’s private lives, but HR really needs to know more about that if they are to be effective. If a business has capacity employee assistance schemes can include access to therapy – just ensure the therapists are properly regulated via an accredited register and highly trained.

Anxiety is always about being out of control of our own lives. Employers should address the answers to these questions: How much input does each worker have over how they work and what goals they accept?

Have they helped in the planning of the tasks? Have they agreed the quotas or were those passed down by management and then they ‘accepted’ them? Employees need to be able to see the end point of their labours.

For many years Volvo has organised workers into small teams to build whole cars between them. In this batch-work system each worker typically does a series of tasks rather than one task over and over again.

These teams organise, build and manage the whole process, which bypasses the tedium of line assembly and has gained the satisfaction that comes from completing a task.

The best way to get people involved is to run a charity drive for an organisation like CALM or the Samaritans. This kind of fundraising boosts awareness without being patronising.

Make it about other people. Start classes in communication or relationships that are open to all. Use mental health as an educational issue and a platform for men to learn new skills, as well as potentially taking away that ‘personal embarrassment’ that may be holding them back from good mental health.

It would be beneficial for anyone suffering with poor mental health to do a self-assessment about their own risk. Anxiety can be caused by things going on at home, rather than a result of the work environment. Men are suffering and it’s going under the radar.

Men need to take their own mental health seriously but they also need this to come from their employers in equal measure. Creating a supportive and understanding forum for them to come forward is the first step.

Martin Pollecoff is chairman of the UK Council for Psychotherapy