How often have you noticed your male colleagues talk about mental health at the workplace? Probably not much! Does that mean they don't struggle with mental health issues? Or do you think they know better coping strategies? Well, not! However, among men, mental health is often unrecognized. As a result, it remains untreated. In fact, a Harvard article mentions that "men are less likely to seek help for mental health challenges."
Mental health stigma
But why do men avoid talking about their emotional health? The most common answer is stigma. Men face both self-stigma and social stigma about talking about their mental health. From childhood, they are conditioned and socialized to hide their emotions. "Strong boys don't cry," is often told them.
These socialized ideas condition them to be assertive, self-reliant, and in control of their life. At the workplace, too, they are conditioned to be action-orientated, which drastically reduces their capacity to identify and acknowledge their feelings of remorse and sadness. Even if they do, such conditioning and stigma demotivate them to seek help even if they identify and acknowledge any mental health distress.
Mental health in male-dominated industries
Having sound mental health is critical to performing day-to-day tasks both at home and at the workplace. Poor mental health of employees can affect their productivity, performance, attendance, engagement, and overall motivation. Male-dominated industries or high-volume workloads can create a triggering environment leading to disturbed mental health conditions.
Why you should be concerned
It is estimated that by 2030, depressive disorders will be the number one reason for ill health and premature death worldwide. The rise of mental health disorders not just affects individuals but is a reason for significant concern among organizations. A study mentions that the annual loss due to mental illness can be as high as 105 billion pounds in England, 317 dollars in the US, and 51 billion dollars in Canada. This is coupled with productivity loss from absenteeism.
Improving mental health in male-dominated industries
In a male-dominated workplace where talking about mental health is considered taboo, the first step that employers should take is to de-stigmatize the topic. It's important to make employees open up about their mental health at work and build a workplace culture that is safe to talk about mental health comfortably. Here are some ways to build a positive workplace culture:
Open the door to vulnerable conversations
Managers should create opportunities to talk about mental well-being during their one-on-one conversations with their male colleagues. One of the best ways to do this is to show your own vulnerability during these conversations in private settings. For example, they can lead the way by mentioning how they are feeling. For instance, they might say, "Last week was a tough one to handle.
There was too much pressure on the project delivery. The late-night client meetings were overwhelming. How have you been?" such statements will show acceptance and acknowledgment of mental health and how it's impacting your life.
You may also normalize seeking help by talking about it. For instance, you can make a casual remark like, "I have to leave early today; I am going to see my therapist," during a water cooler conversation.
Train the managers
While you put in all sorts of efforts to normalize talking about mental health issues, you need to spread awareness among your managers about mental health problems and the consequences they bring at the workplace and also in your personal life if left untreated. Empower them to identify mental health issues and how to deal with them as managers. Arranging regular seminars and workshops will educate them on how to offer help and support when they see someone in their team needs help, irrespective of gender.
Improve access to support
Employers should make programs easily accessible to their employees. All such information must be readily available on the company portals, company newsletters, and all the relevant communication channels. Run regular campaigns to spread further awareness.
Be mindful of semantics
Make your managers choose their words when dealing with mental health issues among their male team members. For example, words like sadness or depression may avoid such discussions as it may question their notion of masculinity. So, learn to avoid such terms. Instead, use words like recovering from burnout, dealing with stress, building resilience, and strength.
Creating an employee assistance program
Having a well-structured employee assistance program as part of the general wellness program is a good idea to reduce mental health stigma. Introduce sessions like tracking stress or burnout recovery programs that do not alienate men from taking part in such programs.
Understand that no matter how much you try to normalize talking about mental health and seeking help in a male-dominated workplace, there will be pushback and resistance during the initial days. So, don't expect any overnight changes in people's behavior of embracing mental health issues. As employers, all you can do is be consistent with your efforts and create a safe workplace environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their emotions and where there is no judgment and stigma.