Engaging male staff in wellbeing perks

Men can be reluctant to take health issues seriously, and employers may need to make a special effort to get them interested in wellbeing benefits and initiatives, says Nicola Sullivan

If you read nothing else, read this…

– Men are almost three times as likely as women to die while they are in employment.
– Chronic health problems are becoming more prevalent among UK employees.
– Healthcare initiatives that focus on improving performance, energy and planning are likely to appeal to male staff.
– Headline statistics about male conditions can have a big impact when presented in a simple and direct way.

It is no great revelation that men are less likely to look after their health than women and may visit the doctor only under duress from a concerned mother or partner. But it is not only men’s loved ones who are frustrated by their reluctance to take health issues seriously. Many employers rack their brains about how to get more male staff to take advantage of workplace health and wellbeing benefits.

With chronic health problems looming larger among UK staff, employers are under increasing pressure to boost employee engagement with occupational health initiatives. The Healthy Work report, put together by Bupa in partnership with the Work Foundation, the Oxford Health Alliance and think tank RAND Europe, which was published in March, says by 2030, an ageing workforce and higher rates of chronic disease among employees will pose a serious threat to the productivity of British businesses. The report also predicts the number of employees with diabetes or respiratory diseases, such as asthma, will increase by at least 7% to more than four million, and the incidence of mental illness in the workforce will rise by 5%, affecting 4.2 million workers.

Peter Baker, chief executive officer of the Men’s Health Forum, says: “Men are almost three times as likely as women to die while still of working age and men will respond to workplace-based initiatives, so it is vital employers and the NHS work together to develop the workplace as a setting for men’s health activity.”

The Men’s Health Forum believes it is particularly important for workplace health initiatives to engage male employees because men are most likely to suffer from poor health unnecessarily and die young from preventable causes.

Men’s Health Week, which took place on 15-21 June, highlighted the issue further, prompting some employers to hold workplace events to raise awareness about male health matters. For example, The Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education provided information on issues such as prostate cancer.

Other employers, such as Transport for London (TFL), which have a predominantly male workforce, have always had to be proactive to ensure men are engaged with health and wellbeing initiatives. Dr Olivia Carlton, head of occupational health at TFL, says: “It can be difficult to engage men in health and wellbeing activities at work because they tend not to think of it as applying to them or, if they do, they often do not want to be seen to get involved. Other things we have found helpful are a very informal and friendly approach and we try very hard to be encouraging rather than critical in any advice or observations we give.”

Health and wellbeing firm The Tonic designed a programme for a large UK pharmaceutical company which was targeted only at men. The programme, which went live in February, involved group presentations to men on issues such as fitness, nutrition, stress management and personal performance strategies, as well as screening their blood pressure, body fat and body mass index (BMI). Jeff Archer, director of The Tonic, says: “Men-only initiatives focus on performance, energy, planning and getting great results by being as fit and sharp as they can be each day.

“With the emphasis on fitness training techniques, fuelling for performance and ways to balance the mental and physical challenges of life, the men were more willing to get stuck into the advice quickly and start applying it to their lives straight away.”

Strong communication supported the initiative, which was taken up by 10% of the firm’s male staff within two hours of it being announced. Images of high-achieving men, such as Lance Armstrong, Lewis Hamilton and Barack Obama, were used to promote the programme and information was distributed via email, noticeboards and on TV screens around the building.

As well as adopting such measures, employers can harness the impact of hard-hitting statistics relating to conditions such as prostate cancer to draw attention to their health and wellbeing benefits. Iain Laws, commercial director at consultancy Enrich, says: “It is key to hit the issue with a campaign led by a headline that is real for a specific age group and gender. It is important to make men understand why they need to do something about their health and then make it easy for them to take the next step, which is finding out more or going to have a check-up.”

It is also important that an organisation’s senior executives are seen to be engaging in health and wellbeing initiatives. After all, a beer-guzzling boss with a penchant for chips and cigarettes is hardly going to inspire the rest of the workforce to engage in a healthy lifestyle.