Co-founder HRi
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Men’s Health Week: How can HR help close the gender health gap

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In the Covid era, this year’s Men’s Health Week (14-20 June 2021) is a reminder that employers need to better engage men with health initiatives and support their mental health to help close the gender health gap.

15th Jun 2021
Co-founder HRi
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Whilst it may sound like a generalisation, the fact is that men on the whole do not look after their health as much as women, especially when it comes to their mental health which is leading to a gender health gap.  There are some disturbing statistics out there that really illustrate the issue. Men have shorter life expectancy with 1 in 5 men in the UK dying before the age of 65. They are also more likely to die from heart disease, be overweight or obese and are twice as likely to die from Covid compared with women. An ONS report highlighted that 3 out of 4 suicides were by men in 2016. Writing for the British Psychological Society in 2018, Dr Funke Baffourde described male suicide as the ‘Silent Epidemic’ in 2018, reporting it as the highest cause of death in men under 45, with the highest rate being between the age of 40-44.

Despite this, men are less likely to seek medical attention or advice than women. A study in 2012 by the National Pharmacy Association reported that UK men on average visited their GP four times a year compared to women who averaged six times a year. The result of this is that many conditions are not identified until it’s too late, cancer being a prime example where early prevention can save lives. Whilst this research has not been repeated as yet, there is unfortunately no evidence to suggest this has changed since then.

Why are men reluctant to visit their doctor? A shocking 90% of men said they simply didn’t want to bother them unless it was a serious problem. This is accompanied by being too busy, not wanting to hear bad news, or feeling embarrassed about opening up to someone any personal issues they may be experiencing or not wanting to have a physical exam.

Why should this be important to businesses? 

Having healthy employees and introducing wellbeing initiatives makes business sense. The CIPD agree with this, stating that wellbeing initiatives lead to higher resilience, more engaged employees, lower levels of sickness absence, as well as higher levels of performance and productivity. Failing to look after the health of your employees means you are restricting the talent that is available to you.

Throughout the year it's important to think about how you can support the health of your male employees.

Whilst the health of all employees is obviously important, health initiatives in the workplace, both when working in the workplace or working from home, can be of particular importance for men as the research shows that men are less likely to use all other forms of primary health provision. They also still spend more time in the workplace, usually taking less advantage of flexible working options and are still almost twice as likely to work full time.

Workplace initiatives are effective at engaging men and are often very much welcomed and valued.  For example, GP helplines often provide a sense of anonymity and are often virtual meaning many men find it less embarrassing to talk about personal health concerns when it is not face to face. They can also be fitted more easily into the traditional workday. 

Whilst many of us are continuing to work from home due to Covid-19, workplace initiatives are still very much applicable and, in some cases, even more accessible when working remotely rather than only being available when working onsite.

Wellbeing at work

What can businesses do to support and promote Men’s Health Week?

The theme of Men’s Health Week in 2021 is Mental Health in a Covid world. 

Men’s Health Forum has come up with the CAN DO Challenge and it’s a great way to get involved with Men’s Health Week 2021, whilst supporting the mental health of all of your employees.

You can participate in the Challenge by asking your employees to choose a different way to focus on their wellbeing each day of the week, whether they are working in the workplace or from home.

The five ways are:

  • Connect – Connect with other people (e.g. give someone a call who haven’t spoken to for a while due to lockdown) #connectmonday

  • (Be) Active – Get moving (e.g. go for a run or a walk, or get on your bike) #activetuesday

  • Notice – Be present and in the moment, be aware of what’s around you (e.g. turn off your phone for an hour) #noticewednesday

  • Discover – Learn something new or take up a new activity (e.g. read a new book look into a new hobby) #discoverthursday

  • Offer (or give) – Do something for someone else (e.g. volunteer for a local charity or community group) #offerfriday

It’s not all about Men’s Health Week though. Throughout the year it's important to think about how you can support the health of your male employees.

Supporting men's mental health throughout the year

  • Use your internal comms to bring resources and information to your employees easily – both when people are working in the workplace or remotely using online channels

  • Try and make sure the language is gender neutral everyone can relate to it – and review any existing resources to address any language that is either overly feminine or masculine

  • Seek ideas from your employees to see what they would like to learn about through anonymous surveys or idea boxes

  • Think about introducing some activity based activities or challenges to bring people together to exercise together or virtually egg bike, running and walking team challenges

  • Provide company sponsorship to charity sporting activities to encourage employees to participate in

  • Provide monthly awareness topics around health and wellbeing. These can range from healthy eating with recipe ideas and fresh fruit in the workplace, to provision of mediation exercises and support or other wellbeing initiatives

  • Look at and review current wellbeing initiatives in terms of uptake and participation

  • Create working groups who have particular interests in these areas to champion different initiatives

Supporting Men’s Health Week this year is easy with the CAN DO challenge, but it also makes business sense to be supporting health in the workplace all year round, recognising different approaches are needed to specifically support and promote men’s health.

Interested in this topic? Read 'Man trouble: HR’s role in men’s mental health.'

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