Men at work: Fighting depression on the job

A few simple adjustments, at no cost to the employer, can save lives

Suicide is the biggest killer of males under 50. Had I known that when I took up my sales job miles away a couple of decades ago I might have reconsidered.

I would wake up in a panic under waves of anxiety, then throw up in the sink. It became a ritual before I even put on my suit. I smiled bravely; nobody could notice my turmoil.

I was far from the people closest to me in a beautiful foreign country, without any certainty of income. Stress, anxiety and loneliness took their toll. Helplessness and lack of self-worth flooded me. I was depressed and the pain was unbearable.

Then I had an idea. I’d jump off the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. There’d be no repatriation costs; there’d be nothing left of me to send back to Britain. I could save my family about twenty-five grand.

Life wasn’t done with me yet though. A locked fire exit foiled my plan… and an honest conversation with my truest friend Alex opened a new path.

The rest of my story is documented in my book Suicide To Success. I went on to build my own company, retired in my fifties and am now passionate about helping other men to fight depression.

It’s time for us to talk and listen to each other – to learn how to manage depression while creating strong careers and personal lives.

Men at risk

The division between working life and private life is no longer clearly defined. Increased social isolation, constant online activity, job uncertainty and poor working conditions make for excellent depression fodder.

For men particularly the stats are horrifying. We still don’t talk enough about the way we feel. By far the highest rates of work-related suicide occur in the construction and building industry, where the ‘take it on the chin’ attitude has barely changed over the decades.

That old stigma still lingers around some workplaces: big boys don’t cry. When employers invest in the mental health of their teams they see better engagement, a happier atmosphere and less absenteeism. Top investment doesn’t have to be heavy on the pocket though, and HR professionals agree:

“The good news is that initiatives to enable people to talk about their wellbeing at work are more tech-enabled,” says Nicola Forbes-Taylor of NFT Consulting. “Companies with lower budgets can improve their staff support significantly. Simple tools from Mind, for instance, can be very beneficial, such as short online courses and downloadable printouts.”

With a pragmatic managerial attitude much of the scourge of work-related depression can be beaten.

Flexible working

There’s little reason to demand rigid nine-to-five working schedules. A flexible approach helps employees to balance their work and private lives, fostering a relationship based on mutual good faith.

As long as the work gets done what does it matter if it happens at home, or before or after regular working hours on a flexitime basis?

Check the workload

Work overload is the number one cause of stress absenteeism. Help employees to prioritise their workload. Leftover tasks might be delegated to others temporarily. If extra help is needed on an ongoing basis then perhaps a job share is the solution.

A happy workplace

Open-plan offices are often blamed for increased stress at work. By simply rearranging desks and dividers to create more privacy, or joining desks to promote contact, the morale in the office can improve overnight at no extra cost.

Staff support

An employer’s secret weapon against stress in the workplace is the team itself. Consider setting up a mentoring programme where more established workers help to orientate newer members of staff for a set time.

Offer mediation and debriefings in one-to-ones and staff meetings, especially after a tough sales month when the pressure is high for all.

A culture of conversation

New team members should be encouraged to join in the 'talk' ethos. There may be a preferred time and place to talk personally, but the opportunity to open up is not only there, it’s there to be used.

None of these measures costs anything other than a little planning time and implementation.

Employers, it’s time to kill off that old mental health stigma in our workplaces. Let’s start talking and save lives.

Rob Goddard is the former CEO of EvolutionCBS and author of Suicide To Success