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It’s no secret that before COVID-19 hit our society, we were already dealing with epidemic levels of stress, burnout, depression, and loneliness. Before the pandemic, at least one in five Canadians reported experiencing a mental health issue or problem in any given year. We can only imagine what those numbers will look like throughout the pandemic and beyond. This wave of mental health distress is the result of systemic issues we have been experiencing in western cultures for many years. For example, some unhealthy behaviours, such as overworking, are not only seen as acceptable but often rewarded. Whether it’s responding to an email at 10:00 pm or working overtime on the weekends, these types of behaviours have been socially approved resulting in no real-time for rest or rejuvenation. When training your body for a fitness competition, you need to spend many hours in the gym lifting heavy weights, but the key to ensuring success is the inclusion of rest days. So, why don’t we do the same for the most highly solicited organ of our body?
Cultural and societal values have a significant impact on young boys’ development. According to a study by the New York Times, boys aged 10 to 19 identified that strength and toughness were the two most valuable male traits by society. Furthermore, they also responded that aggressiveness and quietness were the two main strategies for dealing with anger. Those social constructs are translating in our workplaces and corporate cultures. When men are dealing with mental health symptoms, they are more likely to repress them and less likely to seek medical help, while women are more likely to reach out to their social networks or a medical professional. Also, men are more likely to develop harmful coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking, gambling, unhealthy eating, or other types of addiction. This cocktail of repressed emotions and outdated social values is the perfect mix for developing serious mental serious problems that can not only impact personal lives and performance at work but may lead to more deadly consequences.
When men’s mental health issues are left unchecked, they are more likely to resort to harmful behaviours. Here are some of the alarming statics that illustrates the suicide gap:
Data shows that 45 is the average age for a leave of absence caused by a mental health disability. However, we also know that the average age at which people start experiencing the symptoms of mental health issues is 31. This means that for more than 15 years, people are not working at their best. They may struggle with absenteeism, presenteeism, lower productivity and are more likely to experience stress and anxiety. We also know that workers experiencing mild or moderate signs of burnout are more likely to quit. So, what does this mean for organizations? The sooner leaders can begin to play a more present and active role in supporting employee mental health and wellbeing the more likely they are to attract better talent and see greater performance and engagement from their team over the long run. Not only that, by investing in mental health and creating a culture that proactively addresses and supports it, they can avoid potential leaves of absence in the future.
We are trying to change the culture inside of our organizations. This takes time and there are no easy solutions to implement from one day to the next. We need to be mindful that some approaches to mental health will not resonate with men. In every communication strategy, the message needs to be tailored for the audience. For example, the website mantherapy.org uses humour to promote resources and talk about men’s mental health in a way that resonates with them. When sending out a leadership or HR email try to use various tactics that speak to all members of the organization. Another simple, but effective option is to reach out when you recognize one of your male coworkers seems stressed or depressed. When speaking with them, emphasize their behaviours: “You seemed pretty impatient on that call, is there anything I can do for you?” Don’t push the issue beyond what they want to share, but also follow-up at regular intervals to show that you are concerned and there to support them.
Covid-19 has shown us the importance of emotionally intelligent leaders. Our managers need to be empathetic, nurturing, compassionate and show their vulnerability. These skills need to be cultivated in our organizations, especially within male leaders. Making small changes to usual routines and agendas can make a significant impact. For example, a company with a strong health and safety culture wanted to encourage more openness and vulnerability within the organization. So, rather than starting each meeting with a physical safety tip, they decided to implement a mental health minute as well. Over time, this small change reduced stigma within the organization and normalized mental health conversations amongst employees.
“Do what I preach not what I do” cannot stand anymore. Managers need to lead by example, especially men. But they also need support and should be properly educated around mental health in the workplace. Leaders need to be able to recognize warning signals, have non-judgmental conversations to support their team members and be an ambassador for good mental work hygiene. For example, set rules and boundaries that forbid people to send emails between 6 pm and 7 am, have informal meetings to bond with your team, allow flexibility, normalize childcare as part of a man’s responsibilities and be available if anyone needs to talk.
This blog is the summary of the below-recorded webinar: