Male mental health has become a very relevant and necessary talking point in recent years. In light of this, Workplace Wellbeing Professional sat down with life coach and author Dan Stanley on the importance of supporting male health in the workplace.
Dan Stanley is a qualified NLP coach specialising in improving male wellbeing, work-life balance and personal relationships. Dan helps men regain confidence and control over their life, and is the author of the popular Rethinking Masculinity which discusses societal issues surrounding the male gender. As a former mountain leader in the military, Dan runs a ‘men & mountains’ event which is a no cost no commitment community project where he takes men out for a walk and a talk.
What are the main causes of poor mental health for middle-aged working men?
I think that it’s cause and effect.
Young men, particularly those in adolescence, experience conditioning around the belief that professional success equals personal happiness. As a result, men invest a disproportionate amount of time and effort into their careers and inevitably arrive at a place where the success they achieved hasn’t accompanied the sense of fulfilment they expected. This leads them to a place where they don’t have answers to the situation they find themselves in.
There are other various challenges that affect professional men. By the time they’ve gone through academia and started to work their way up the corporate ladder, it coincides with real-life pressures such as being parents or getting married. The term I use for this is the ‘messy middle’, which are the pressures we experience in the middle part of life during our 30’s and 40’s. Particularly now, off the back of the pandemic, the war in Europe and the financial recession, there are so many factors that come together that can lead to declining mental health.
At the core of it, for me, is that men expect success to create happiness and it doesn’t.
How can employers help employees tackle issues such as workaholism?
It’s all about the consequences.
We need to look carefully at the data surrounding burnout, loneliness, poor mental health, mid-life crisis and divorce. Despite what we know, ultimately a lot of people will end up in situations they would much rather avoid. This is because they don’t understand the impact of overworking and under-living.
In my book, Rethinking Masculinity, I call it a ‘respectable addiction’. People wear it as a badge of honour to be first in and last out of the office. I work with a lot of lawyers and have found there’s a misconception that because the partners in the law firm have to prove their worth through working ridiculous hours, now the juniors who are on the upward curve of their careers are expected to do the same.
Workaholism is a real issue. I think talking about the consequences is very important. Leaders should be expressing themselves more emotively with their teams rather than just leading through a place of KPI’s, metrics and IQ’s. By demonstrating emotional intelligence and openly sharing what their life was like during the challenging aspects of their journey is a positive route to take.
Are there any crucial first steps employers should take if they suspect their male employee is suffering with mental health, but are reluctant to ask for help?
A lot of people will ask somebody how they are, but not really expect an honest answer or likely be unprepared for an honest answer. When I did my mental health first aiders course, the most uncomfortable part of the training was asking the question ‘are you suicidal?’ But I learnt that we need to embrace the discomfort of asking somebody ‘are you okay?’, and not accepting a superficial answer. That is my core answer to this question.
I think what’s really important here is people shouldn’t wait for staff appraisals. If they suspect that somebody is experiencing poor mental health, either because they’re distracted, wearing stress on their face, or dropping form despite being exceptionally good at what they do, leaders need to call it forward – not out. Ask the question: ‘are you okay?’.
If you are given a superficial answer, then lay out the reasons why you are asking that question in the first place. Back up your question with something tangible and not just speculation or personal judgement. But before that happens, leaders need to start by asking the question.
In light of Movember last month, did you feel a rise in people asking for help, or feeling it’s okay to say somethings not quite right?
No. These days we’ve got a lot of corporates and organisations talking about mental health, but it’s ineffective in the way of getting people as individuals to talk about their own experiences because of the stigma around feeling inadequate.
Still, people are trying to ‘man-up’ and force their way through life challenges rather than opening up and being expressive. We are still experiencing a disconnect between all the positive intent and the impact it’s actually having.
Typically what I find in my line of work, not just around Movember, or the month of November, is that there’s generally some kind of like quake that forces somebody to take stock of where they are. By quake, I mean either a bereavement or a loss of a job or something significant in their life that enables them to realise that what they’re currently doing isn’t working for them and they need to take ownership.
What implementations can employers take to support male mental health from a hybrid working perspective?
Sometimes being in person can create a physical barrier where people feel as though they don’t have the vocabulary to express how they’re feeling. Perhaps no one has ever been a role model to demonstrate that it’s okay to have honest conversations and not feel emasculated by it.
From a hybrid perspective, corporates can send around anonymised surveys where they’re simply checking people’s wellness but not capturing who’s completing those forms. This will allow a high-level overview of what’s happening beneath the bonnet in terms of their teams.
However, what I often find with corporate organisations is that corporate people come up with corporate solutions. They want people to show up in ways that aren’t necessarily challenging, but if we don’t challenge the status quo of masculinity alongside the issues around workaholism, loneliness, burnout, poor mental health, and suicide, they are still going to be an issue. So, invite corporates to use additional platforms from having surveys to online talking workshops too.
I think what it comes down to is creating a space where people feel able to share without judgement. Often leaders don’t really listen, they just want to solve problems so they can get back to pursuing the key business interests. What we need is less leadership intelligence and more emotional intelligence – that is what’s important.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.