Let’s talk about men’s health in the workplace

Monday, 8 June 2020

If you had to choose, what would you rather be: healthy or successful?

For many men, this is a decision that heavily affects their career and personal wellbeing. They are pressured by a cultural script on masculinity that dictates how men must be self-reliant, tough, and strong 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In the workplace, these traditional tropes have the power to become more than just stereotypes—they’re a rule book that must be followed to the tee.

From an early age, this script teaches men that in order to be respected they must “man up.” We’re taught that “men don’t cry” and that they should “suck it up, princess” or “go eat some concrete” instead. Don’t say you’re stressed or sick, and certainly don’t have feelings. Emotions make us weak.

Today, this negative culture still saturates many businesses. It is a by-product of managers that expect their employees to forgo good health for the organisation’s success, and it’s putting men at risk.

Masculine stereotypes are putting men at risk

There’s a lot of literature linking traditional perceptions of masculinity to health problems in men. These cultural scripts have endorsed a precedent where seeking health care, both preventative and curative, is perceived as degrading to a man’s status and respect.

Essentially, masculine stereotypes are pitting health against respect. Men are 32% less likely to visit a health professional than women. They represent 94% of all workforce fatalities and have a life expectancy almost five years shorter than women. Men are also less likely to seek psychological help when they are dealing with mental health issues. On average:

  • 1 in 8 men will experience depression
  • 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety
  • men are nearly 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women
  • men are twice as likely to die because of drug or alcohol abuse.

This spills over into the workplace. There persists a strong belief among men that if they signal to their employers that they are struggling to cope with their work demands or relationships, then they will put their career in jeopardy.

This line of thought encourages the perception that perhaps it is safer to not do anything for their health. Perhaps it is safer to just “suck it up.”

Brock has found employment at Loyalty Pets has helped him manage his depression. Their positive workplace mental health have helped Brock feel at his best.
Brock has found employment at Loyalty Pets has helped him manage his depression. Their positive workplace mental health have helped Brock feel at his best.

It all starts in the workplace

Good health and success should not be a dichotomy, and they don’t have to be.

In our 30 years of inclusive employment support here at EPIC Assist, we’ve seen firsthand how employment is one of the most important factors in men’s health.

This travels both ways. For example, employment offers the opportunity for income, accomplishment, a sense of value, and social connections, all of which have powerful implications on our overall health and wellbeing.

At the same time, a poor workplace environment that promotes negative cultural scripts of masculinity is likely to engender even poorer health outcomes than unemployment.

Managers in these workplaces choose to risk men’s health for the sake of their success. Something needs to change here.

It’s clear that the workplace model needs an intensive redesign. Work is a key setting for engaging men in accessing health services. Yet the exact opposite seems to be happening – it’s preventing good health and wellbeing.

This traditional workplace model is layered with stressors that stem from the pressure for men to be the breadwinner and invest long hours at work. All of this is incredibly isolating and creates the expectation that men’s success and their family’s wellbeing come at the expense of their happiness and the relationships with their friends, partners, and children.

What can employers do?

We’re gradually seeing employers jump on board and change from the old attitude of, “Suck it up, princess” to a model that is supportive, compassionate, and accommodating of employees’ health.

Flexible work is the new normal, and leaders that promote a positive work-home balance show their employees that seeking help will not put their career at risk. Rather, by bettering themselves, they will better their career.

Matt and Mitchell stand behind Brouhaha bar. The white tiles behind them are covered in grafitti and below that is the colourful beer taps.
A mentally healthy workplace benefits everyone. Get the support your business needs today.

Progressive workplaces that challenge cultural scripts of “success” by encouraging men to participate in flexible work see extensive spillover benefits. These working arrangements allow men to have a more positive involvement with their family which makes them happier, more productive, and more confident in themselves.

Men should feel comfortable accessing information and services that support their general and mental health within the workplace and at home. Employers can lead in de-stigmatising mental health conditions by communicating that it’s okay to put your hand up if you’re struggling. If we create workplace environments where employees feel safe to say, “Hey, look, I’m having some problems here,” we create spaces that normalise seeking help.

Many workplaces offer all their employees access to free and confidential mental health services. This lets their staff know that it’s okay to not be okay and encourages them to reach out and get the support they need.

We’re standing up against traditional masculinity this Men’s Health Week

June 15 to 21 marks Men’s Health Week. Men’s Health Week is dedicated to kickstarting a change in perceptions and highlighting what it means to be a healthy man.

This Men’s Health Week, we’re raising the profile on what men’s health looks like in the workplace.

By standing up against stigma and social norms, we set the stage for redefining what it means to be a strong man and encourage more men to prioritise their health.

We’re calling out to employers to take a moment to understand how they can better support their employees’ health and create positive workplace environments. It’s time to change how we look at men’s health in the workplace. Success and good health are not a dichotomy.

Everyone deserves meaningful employment

For 30 years, we’ve been helping people with disability to find meaningful employment through the Australian Government’s Disability Employment Services (DES) program.

If you’re not already connected with EPIC Assist, get in touch with us today to find out how we can support your business to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace, or find an employer who will prioritise your wellbeing.

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