No one willingly likes to display vulnerability at work, least of all men. We look at the reasons, the impact that has on their health, and a workplace that’s trying to confront the issue.
Men’s reluctance to seek help and use health services is a concern across most Western cultures. The reasons are often linked to a masculine culture that places an expectation on men to be stoic, tough and strong and therefore men who are in need become victims of their own behaviour.
(One in five Australians who died by suicide did so because of issues they were facing in the workplace, read our article.)
Instead of perpetuating this mentality, men’s health week is an opportunity to normalise discussion around health issues. Andrew Jewell, McDonald Murholme principal lawyer believes it’s also an opportunity for employers.
“By being supportive and aware of suffering employees, as well as promoting a healthy mind and body through work-life balance, employers show that they are conscious and committed to the health and mental well-being of staff,” Jewell says.
He recognises that it is not an easy decision to reveal personal issues to an employer, as many men (and women) believe they will be treated differently at work if and when they do.
On the other hand, Jewell says, “It is important to disclose any health conditions to gain legal protections from discrimination which can be found in the State and Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation and the Fair Work Act 2009 (cth).”
Jewell advises that employees who are suffering from a health issue seek medical advice before they notify their employer of the condition.
Addressing it head on
It’s in the territory of mental health where men have the most difficulty admitting they have a problem. Half of all Australian men will have a mental health problem at some point in their life, and one in eight will experience depression, yet they are far less likely to open up about these issues than their female counterparts.
“Talking about what’s affecting them and taking action are proven ways for men to stay mentally healthy but it’s still difficult to get men to take that all important first step,” explains Sally Kirkright, CEO at AccessEAP. The company has set up what it calls “Toolbox talks” in an effort to raise mental health awareness. Organisations in the manufacturing, mining and construction industries have already signed up.
“Often at the beginning of a session, we struggle to get men to talk,” says Eleni van Delft, director, relationship management at AccessEAP, who has been running the talks in-house, ”But by the end, they can be reluctant to leave. And I’ve witnessed large scale discussion among participants about issues that may be affecting them in their personal or work life long after the session has ended. The Toolbox talks are not only helping men to reach out for help, but also show them their organisation cares about them and values their wellbeing.”
Research collected by AccessEAP shows that anxiety (17%), relationship with a partner (14%) and depression (14%) are the leading personal issues for which men seek assistance while workplace stress (15%), career concerns (10%), and fear of loss of job (8%), are the leading workplace issues.
A study this year found that a third of Australian children aged between 11 and 13 felt their fathers worked too much, and that more than half of fathers have reported missing family events because of work. Anxiety and depression can reach a peak when men are coping with becoming a father for the first time.
beyondblue runs a campaign to keep men on a mental even keel during this life-changing period. A web series, Dadvice, follows a group of dads on their journey into fatherhood and the dadvice.org.au site offers a self-service checklist to remain in balance, along with other resources.
Arguably the most successful campaigns around men’s health, which many organisations support in-office, have been run by the Movember Foundation. They help raise awareness around mental health and prostate and testicular cancer. Targeting male-dominated industries such as financial services and mining, their annual events such as The Distinguished Gentleman’s motorbike ride and grow a mo (moustache) have been high-profile fundraisers.