Take a good look around your workplace. Pay particular attention to the men. Now imagine this: that one in five of those male colleagues in your office, depot or factory won’t make it to retirement age. Instead they’ll be dead, and very likely from an illness that – spotted at the right time – could have been treated successfully. According to estimates, half of all premature male deaths are preventable.
Shocked? You should be. But it gets worse. Suicide is still the leading cause of death in men under 35. Three quarters of all premature deaths due to coronary heart disease are among men.
Men also face a 67% higher chance of dying from cancers which affect both men and women. This could well increase, as, thanks to COVID, cancer diagnoses in men have halved.
Let me turn the screw one final time. There is nothing new about these statistics or the causes behind them. We’ve talked about the issues and run campaigns, for example around testicular and prostate cancers, and yet the grim reality is that thousands of men are dying far too early.
Yes there are still massive taboos to overcome. Too many cultures continue to share the dangerous belief that men have to be the strong ones: that they need to ‘man-up’ in any crisis. We also know that men are far less likely to seek medical advice. Men of working age make half the GP visits women do.
There are reasons for this – and some will be financial and career based. Who wants to lose money and damage their career by being seen to take too much time off? Equally, women have four times as many opportunities in their lifetimes to meet with medical professionals as men. When it comes to male health, mental and physical, it just isn’t working as well as it should.
As our working lives become longer, there is no reason to believe that these statistics won’t get worse. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no reason why we can’t level up this seeming healthcare inequality and create an environment where men feel that seeking help is both the right and the proper thing to do.
So where do we start? What steps can you, as an HR professional, take right now to make sure these statistics on male health start to show a radical improvement? Here are three changes you can adopt right now which will set you on the way to improving the health outcomes for half your workforce.
First and foremost, get talking, and not just about the issues. Removing the stigma around men’s health issues is vital, but many companies already offer a range of healthcare support which men – and women can access.
The question is: do they know they exist? Are they aware of what help is available? Do they know how to take the first steps towards discovering just how they can make the most of these, be they health screening or a gym membership?
This all needs to be done in an inclusive way. Not all men identify themselves as football mad. Yes, men tend to respond better to humour, even quite dark humour, and many sports and sports personalities have played a vital role in spreading the message on men’s health, but too much banter can come across as demeaning and exclude some of the groups of men who we also need to reach out to and include.
There is really no such thing as a stereotypical man. Any internal campaigns need to reflect this reality, and be inclusive of all types of men – as well as those who self-identify as male.
Create a time-out culture
Overwork and stress are massive contributors to ill health, but many feel compelled to go on working despite the messages their bodies are sending them. There has to be a top down change both to counter this trend, and legitimise taking time out to access the healthcare men need. This starts at the top.
We need to demolish the notion that seeking help is a sign of weakness. This is not just cultural, it’s also institutional. It’s hard to change one of these without changing the other, too.
Virtual solutions are also good. Awkward shift patterns, weekend working, unusual hours: all these work against easy access to traditional healthcare options. Offering digital forms of access which can be explored when it works best for the person seeking help is a good option.
This has the added benefit of anonymity, which has been shown to help with engagement levels for men, particularly for more sensitive issues. We all have different levels of confidence, and knowing our problems will be handled professionally and discreetly makes a huge difference.
Here are some ways to get the conversation going and raise awareness.
First, a survey to find out what your male employees are struggling with, and what extra guidance and support might be welcomed. You can access Peppy’s free survey here.
Secondly, hold awareness raising events. There are many external charities, many with awareness events of their own, who might be only too pleased to provide support to any initiatives you may be planning.
These might be based around key dates which you can use to get men talking, such as International Men’s Day or Suicide Awareness Day. One organisation I know of holds a ‘TUFNuts Tuesday’ to raise awareness of testicular cancer.
Remember, events don’t always have to be health-related to help raise awareness and encourage open conversations. A non-alcoholic beer tasting for Dry January or a team running club are great ways to subtly encourage a healthy lifestyle, whilst offering some all-important downtime from work.
Thirdly, consider appointing a specific men’s health champion. Even better, encourage senior level figures to openly share their thoughts and experiences through articles, events or simply as water cooler chat in the office.
Fourthly, think about making personalised men’s health and wellbeing support part of your employee benefits package. Peppy Men is a first-of-its-kind support service which connects men to highly qualified experts, and a library of on-demand resources, on a secure mobile app. It covers all areas of men’s health, from prostate health and exercise and nutrition, to mental wellbeing, addiction and substance abuse, and can be accessed anonymously and outside working hours.
It’s time to begin the journey
International Men’s Day is on 19 of November this year. I hope, together, we can make this date a turning point. It’s an opportunity for us to sit down and take a good, long look at the way we all approach the health and wellbeing, both mental and physical, of our male colleagues.
The statistics on male health make for tough reading, but they are not set in stone. There is another story to be told, and with some simple first steps we can all begin the journey towards ensuring that those statistics change. The sooner we all begin that journey, the better.
Helen Lake is clinical lead for men’s health services at Peppy.
To learn more about how Peppy’s range of services can help you improve the health of your male workforce click here now.