What Can the C-Suite Do to Enhance Men’s Mental Health?
By Thom Dennis, CEO of culture and leadership specialists, Serenity in Leadership
Businesses are facing so many challenges and ways in which they either get it right or get it wrong with increasingly difficult consequences in the case of the latter. On average, we spend approximately one-third of our lifetime working, so it is really important to put time and effort into taking action to care for employees' mental and physical well-being (whether that be burnout, work-family balance, financial instability, stress, anxiety, excessive demanding job expectations, conflicts, or something else).
It is concerning that men are three times more likely to commit suicide compared to women, and they are also less inclined to seek help. One government well-being survey tells us men consistently report lower levels of life satisfaction at all ages compared to women.
With this week marking Men's Health Week (12- 18 June), it is important to identify the factors that influence men's mental health and explore how the C-Suite can proactively assist in addressing these challenges.
THE PROBLEM WITH MASCULINITY AND TOXICITY
We have socialised ideals of masculinity. Psychotherapist and men’s specialist coach Chris Hemmings says the term ‘toxic masculinity’ is demeaning and pushes men away from engaging.
“What men show are problematic behaviours because of the expectations of rigid masculinity, i.e., when you have to be strong, brave and tough and in charge and show no emotion. Most of us know this is not how it should be, but it is often how it is right now, and the solution lies in men freeing themselves from these constraints. Otherwise, when there is a power vacuum, the nefarious characters slip into it because they are tapping into a need. Some men feel confused and scared about how they should be now, and these powerhouses offer you the answers and you go on to regurgitate their rhetoric because at some point it made you feel better or gave you a clue about what to aim for. Andrew Tate’s influence is a perfect example.”
THE STIGMA OF BEING A MAN
There have been many terrible incidences of harassment, misogyny, or physical violence; we hear about them almost every day, and as a result, there is much blame on men in general. Many good men now feel frightened to get on a bus, get in a lift or walk through an underpass when there is a single woman there. They are experiencing a growing tide of rhetoric suggesting “men are the problem” – little wonder so many are reluctant to actively engage with any concrete solutions.
EXCLUDING MEN WON’T WORK
Speaking on behalf of everyone in the room means inclusivity for all and that must include men as well. In some organisations we’ve spoken to, men are not permitted to have a men’s network because they are not a protected category as defined in the Equality Act – something that is indicative of the whole problem according to Chris Hemmings:
“Men are not allowed to have healthy spaces because some men in the past created unhealthy ones. As with any gender or group, we need to be able to allow men to get support because ultimately, the more empathy the better for the individual, not to mention everyone in that business and therefore, the bottom line. Everyone should be taken care of in the workplace, and everyone has a part to play.”
WHAT THE C-SUITE SHOULD FOCUS ON
- Men are less likely to ask for help. Bear this in mind whilst supporting all staff in managing their mental health. Time away from work is vital for wellbeing, but taking extra time off is unlikely to be a sufficient mental health solution because, unless workplace factors such as poor culture are improved, returning employees will experience the same negative environment and effects. Invite an external opinion to assess whether your company’s culture is harming the well-being of your employees.
- Help men to prioritise their own well-being. We need to remember that being compassionate, empathetic, and good to others must begin with ourselves. That is why it is vital for men to be met with an understanding that they also experience difficulties, pain, and anxiety.
- Be sensitive to warning signs. We tend to ask platitudinous questions like “How are you doing?” and “What’s up?”, not really expecting any more than an affirmative “I’m fine” regardless of the truth. This particularly applies to men. If you suspect someone is struggling, offering them a deep listening ear can have a measurable impact. This calls for empathy, sensitivity, and the investment of time.
- Acknowledge there is dysfunction in the expressed masculine and feminine. We are more acutely aware of gender issues when we consider women in the workplace, but “Real men don’t cry” and “man up” and men “bringing home the bacon” are still phrases that we hear on a daily basis. Challenge and dismantle male and female stereotypes of any kind and recognise we all have positive masculine and feminine in us, whatever our gender.
- Invest in mental well-being. It is important to encourage men to seek help for their mental health and to talk more about how they are feeling. For this, dedicated facilitated safe spaces can make a very positive difference in terms of health, well-being and finance. Investing in mental health shows that you care. A 2022 Deloitte report found employers receive a return of £5.30 on average for every £1 they invest in staff mental health whilst the cost of recruiting anew can average £30,000. Regular training (not one-off events) helps us spot the warning signs when someone is struggling and helps identify and provide support for vulnerable employees. An external facilitator will enable an open and non-judgmental environment where everyone can voice their thoughts and concerns and reduce fear of retribution.
- Have some real conversations about healthy masculinity. Foster an inclusive and safe culture where men feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. The more we do this, the more new and healthy dialogue will be normalised. Ask men to tell you more and give them the space to process their emotions. We at Serenity in Leadership are facilitating these spaces on a research basis at the moment and we welcome organisations that feel and see the need and the positive effects of such spaces.
- Recognise that men and women engage differently with their mental and emotional well-being. We develop poor behaviour because either we have been taught to think negatively or we lack good influences. Having good male role models is incredibly important for men. And, since the sources of these have largely dried up because of governmental policies and societal changes, organisations need to take a more conscious approach to the development of the young men entering the workplace.
- Be a leader who is caring, authentic and transparent. The leadership hierarchy (if there is one) in healthy organisations is made up of those who understand that their main role is to create an inclusive healthy culture. These leaders frequently check in on staff and provide managers with the confidence to recognise and address cultural problems affecting mental health including burnout, excessive hours, fear and overbearing demands and pressures.
Learn more on www.serenityinleadership.com.
Serenity In Leadership is co-hosting an executive leadership retreat in Guatemala in late September 2023 aimed at developing leadership skills, engagement, and authenticity through an experiential deep dive.