Are employers doing enough to address mens’ mental health needs?

  • There is still a stigma associated with addressing mental health in the workplace, and moreso for male employees.
  • Employers should encourage help-seeking through easy accessible means that can remain anonymous, for example, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can be accessed remotely and confidentially by telephone and online.
  • Providing access to the right tools that can help support employees’ wellbeing in a way that works for them will also help them move in the right direction.

The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has had a huge impact on employees’ mental health, which, in turn, leads to an increase in employers evaluating the support they can offer. One area of  support that still has stigma attached, and so does not receive the attention it requires, is that of mens’ mental health. A study by coaching provider Raiys titled Mental health and productivity in the workplace, published in January 2022, highlighted that four in 10 (44%) men have used annual leave as opposed to sick leave to address clinical diagnoses related to their mental health, raising serious questions over why men feel they have to use valuable leave time to protect their mental health.

Targeted mental health support

The Raiys study also found that almost three-quarters of males agree that bouts of poor mental health impacted their ability to do their job, highlighting the need for more dedicated mental health benefits.

One option to tackle the stigma associated with men and mental health support is an opt-out therapy scheme for staff, which everyone receives unless they specify otherwise, says Matthew Shaw, managing director at Raiys. “Creating an opt-out service removes huge barriers to access and some of the stigma which surrounds mental health,” he explains. “Apps which offer anonymous access to counselling removes the decision-making process from managers and places it in the hands of employees.”

Raiys itself offers a dedicated live chat and telephone service for its managers as part of its employee assistance programme (EAP) that helps to guide them through difficult and unexpected situations. When a Raiys employee is suffering with their mental health, their manager can then speak to someone at the service who will reassure and advise them on the best course of action.

Employers have many options for supporting mental health in the workplace, and can offer specific enhanced counselling services to help male employees in particular open up about their mental health concerns and, as the two can be intrinsically linked, schemes to support physical health issues. Matthew Gregson, executive director of Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing, says: “These are certainly aspects of male health and wellbeing that need addressing, as well as lifestyle risks such as diet and exercise; this is where there is some way to go for almost all employers in improving health outcomes.”

Providing more active support in the form of helplines or subsidised therapy can be a good place to start. Adnan Ebrahim, co-founder and CEO of mental health platform MindLabs, says: “Given the increase in millennial men in the workforce, having digital-first solutions can provide help in a form that this generation is used to: mobile-first and video-led.

“At MindLabs, we have instructor-led classes centred around techniques like breath work and meditation that can easily squeeze into a lunch hour break. In the last 12 months, I’ve seen a greater emphasis placed on time off, improved holiday leave policies, reduced messaging outside working hours, and specific mental health days designed to educate team members around what they can do to better equip themselves.”

Open culture

Creating a culture of openness with networks of support will offer employees more help in the workplace. While it is important that approaches are tailored to the specific needs of each employer, there are some methods that every organisation can employ.

Chris Paton, managing director at management consultant Quirk, highlights the military technique, decompression, that has been used to help returning soldiers with collaborative support. This involves the provision of a safe and restful location that will enable veterans to have a clean break from the deployment area and go home rested.

“Decompression is essentially a technique that gives those who have been in the military, who have all had vastly different experiences and trauma, a space to come together and create a safe space to share,” he explains. “This concept can be tailored and applied to an organisation through workplace gaming, professional projects, employee initiatives and more.

“Workplaces can use this [technique] to create a safe atmosphere and expand the support network beyond benefits and into the culture and operation of the workplace.”

Preventative support

EAPs can act as a reactive mechanism, as well as a preventative measure to support staff wellbeing. They have long been a mainstay of support for employees’ mental health because of the immediate access they provide to confidential support and counselling. Eugene Farrell, chair of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA UK) and mental health consultancy lead at Axa Health, explains: “An EAP continues to be the key benefit when it comes to supporting male mental health. More specific awareness campaigns are needed to ensure male employees understand the EAP offering, different ways to get access and the need to make contact early. Encourage help-seeking through easy accessible means that can remain anonymous, for example, EAPs can be accessed remotely and confidentially by telephone and online.”

In addition, apps can provide personal insight through mental health assessment and screening, with programmes that can be tried out to develop new ways of managing emotional issues. “Psychological pathways through private medical insurance can also provide routes to support that men can self-refer to,” Farrell adds.

As with all mental health support, EAPs need to be regularly promoted so that employees are aware of the avenues of help available to them.  Employers should also train and educate line managers on the conditions, signs and symptoms of physical and mental health conditions that men face, says Gregson. “This will enable them to have supportive conversations and ensure men can raise and discuss their symptoms and concerns in confidence,” he adds.

Raising awareness

Conversations can go a long way to break down barriers and stigma. Awareness dates, such as Men’s Mental Health Awareness month or Movember, can help in initiating difficult conversations and can foster a sense of community. Noreen O’Prey, people and culture director at Koa Health, says: “Employers can play a critical role regardless of their size, as businesses big and small have the power to make a massive difference. Providing safe spaces where men are comfortable to communicate on their mental health needs, is imperative. For those who may be uncomfortable discussing their mental health, providing access to the right tools that can help support their wellbeing in a way that works for them will also help us move in the right direction.”

Organisations can also signpost employees to charities such as Samaritans and Mind, as well as sector specific initiatives such as Mates in Mind for those working across the construction, transport, logistics and manufacturing industries, says Gregson.

Mental health messaging needs to encourage men them to come forward and talk about how they are feeling. Employers need to create programmes and messages that encourage men to identify with a wider range of perceptions about what men are supposed to be, and how they are expected to act, says Farrell. “Generic mental health messages are not always going to land well with men, so employers would do well to develop specific men’s mental health programmes that address the specific needs that men have and speaks in their way about this important issue. Therefore, tailoring messages and language that speaks directly to men may be more helpful.”

Farrell adds that some male employees may need to see others like them talking about things in a way that they can relate to and understand. “Finding men from within a community who are comfortable talking about their own situations and how they manage, can positively encourage other men in that direction.”

Whether staff are based in a workplace or working from home, it can be challenging for them to share details about their mental health. The best thing employers can start with is listening to what their employees want and need, and go from there.