Three ways ‘toxic masculinity’ is putting male employees at risk
Cleansing ‘toxic masculinity’ from the workplace is essential to reducing the number of men at risk of cancer, mental health issues and suicide.
One of the biggest challenges faced by employers when it comes to men’s health is the unwillingness of men to speak out. ‘Toxic masculinity’ which puts pressure on men to appear strong and internalise concerns – means many men aren’t getting the support they need.
As a result, twelve men will die by suicide today and over 140 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Yet despite the prevalence of these issues, few men are willing to discuss their mental health or the symptoms of prostate cancer for fear of ridicule.
Thankfully there are several things employers can do to cleans this ‘toxic masculinity’ from the workplace to make men feel safe coming forward for support. Kathy Cox, one of our health and wellbeing consultants, shares her top five tips.
Five ways to support men’s health at work
1. Make sure wellbeing isn’t biased towards women
Although employers are doing more than ever to be equitable in their wellbeing programmes, we see twice as many women being referred into occupational health as men, with 16% of men saying work provides little or no wellbeing support, compared to 8% of women.
In most cases employers are doing just as much for men, but this isn’t coming across because ‘toxic masculinity’ means men are more likely than women to put on their ‘I’m fine’ mask when asked how they are by their manager.
Critical to ensuring men are being equally supported is training managers how to use courageous conversations to encourage men to open up about any underlying issues. Not least by asking them ‘How are you really’ instead of taking their first response at face value.
2. Destigmatise men’s health symptoms
Successive wellbeing campaigns mean women now feel much more comfortable discussing menopause symptoms, ranging from hot flushes to brain fog and fatigue, so they can be given help to cope with this at work.
Unfortunately, men who speak out about struggling with insomnia, loss of energy and becoming physically weaker due to the male menopause are more likely to be ridiculed than supported. With even fewer men prepared to chat about how they were up half the night due to needing to urinate repeatedly (when this could be a sign of prostate cancer).
Prostate cancer symptoms can include:
needing to pee more frequently, often during the night
needing to rush to the toilet
difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
straining or taking a long time while peeing
feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
Signs that cancer may have spread include bone and back pain, loss of appetite, pain in the testicles and unintentional weight loss. Source NHS
Critical to destigmatising men’s health issues is talking about the symptoms associated with them all year round, and not just during Movember, so that they become normalised and something everyone is not only aware of but also comfortable speaking about. The more leaders and people in positions of authority can discuss their personal experiences the better.
3. Recognise the impact of toxic masculinity on mental health
When it comes to supporting mental health, managers are often told to look out for the signs that someone is taking less physical care of themselves or becoming more forgetful or emotional and prone to crying. Although these are important signs to watch for, it’s also important to bear in mind that toxic masculinity means men can often suppress these feelings, which can lead to them becoming more aggressive and grumpier instead.
This means mental health issues in men can often present itself as an increased tendency to complain about others and even raise grievances. They can also be perceived to have behavioural problems when this is often due to not coping with stress or anxiety instead.
At the other end of the spectrum, toxic masculinity means some men might feel more inclined to take their own life than admit they need help for feelings of depression. As they cannot be depended on to come forward for support, managers should be mindful of those most at risk, including younger men living alone, men aged 45-49 and those going through a big life event, such as a relationship breakdown, bereavement or redundancy.
4. Offer whole person care
The stigma surrounding mental health, especially for employees whose first language isn’t English and for who the topic remains ‘taboo’, is not to be underestimated. Men themselves might suppress feelings to the extent that this manifests in other ways.
We often have calls from men to our physiotherapy helpline who are carrying a lot of tension in their shoulders and neck, when the underlying reason is stress, for example financial or workload worries. We can triage them into our financial and mental health wellbeing services, but if we didn’t provide this whole person service, and consider a number of flags to look out for, they would just get treatment for their shoulders, when this isn’t the problem.
Similarly, men who have lost physical conditioning and feel depressed that they’ve become too old to exercise or do their job, might need help to access support for the ‘manopause’. For example, testosterone and help to build up their physical strength again more gradually, so that they can become active again, without incurring musculoskeletal (MSK) issues.
5. Consider blood testing and screening
Men have a significantly reduced life expectancy compared to women in no small part because they’re less likely to engage with primary healthcare professionals, such as their GP. With waiting lists for cancer and heart treatment at an all-time high, the sooner men can be helped to detect things like prostate cancer or heart disease the better.
Although GPs offer health screening and blood testing, especially when people enter new risk categories by age, most people won’t ask for them until they become sick. By the time prostate cancer has reached stage 4 there is only a 50% survival rate, compared to stage 1-2. Similarly, someone who is told they have dangerously high cholesterol will have a greater chance of reducing their risk of cardiac arrest or stroke, than someone who doesn’t know this.
Blood testing is a very cost-effective way of detecting signs of abnormality in men, before a disease has a chance to take hold. This can either be offered on a voluntary basis, or as part of your employee benefits package to identify those individuals in need or support, without them having to pluck up the courage to act on symptoms or ask their GP for screening.
Free Webinar: Reducing the impact of ‘toxic masculinity’ on men’s health
Our next webinar will look at how ‘toxic masculinity’ is driving cancer and mental health risks in male employees. Join our team of clinical experts for insights on how to create a culture where men feel comfortable talking about their wellbeing and admitting when they need support.