Research shows that when it comes to their health, men do less well than women. As Men’s Health month comes to a close, how do businesses ensure their health and wellbeing initiatives resonate with as many employees as possible?
The gender health gap
There is a distinct inequality between men’s and women’s health. Men have a shorter life expectancy, are more likely to die from heart disease, be overweight and commit suicide. In England and Wales, twice as many men than women are likely to die from Covid-191.
Despite this, men are also less inclined to seek help or advice from a medical professional. It’s a fact that may help explain why 1-in-5 men in the UK die before the age of 652. Workplace wellbeing initiatives that effectively engage with men could have a positive impact on these figures, and help to close the gender health gap.
What causes the gender health gap?
One of the key reasons men are less healthy than women is that they avoid asking for medical help. In 2012, a study by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) found, on average, UK men visited their GP four times a year, compared to women’s six visits. Men were also almost five times less likely on average to consult a pharmacist3.
A huge 90% said they didn’t want to trouble their GP unless they think there’s a serious problem4. Though the NPA hasn’t repeated its survey, internet searches suggest this attitude hasn’t changed. But this reluctance may have drastic consequences. Men are more likely to die from a non-gender-specific cancer5. When early diagnosis in cancer can mean there’s a better chance of successful treatment, men are literally dying not to see a GP.
Excuses may include they can’t find the time, the fear of being told there’s something seriously wrong, or they’re embarrassed about their condition or having a personal examination. Workplace health initiatives can help tackle these. For example, GP helplines, available 24/7, mean medical services are available whenever they’re needed and can provide a level of anonymity, making it easier for men to broach sensitive issues they may feel uncomfortable talking about face-to-face.
Making health a masculine issue
Another reason men may neglect their health is because they see it as a “feminine” issue. Magazines and media targeting women often combine health and beauty into one topic, suggesting that to be beautiful, you must be healthy. This is particularly true when it comes to weight. Most dieting and weight loss initiatives feature women and female celebrities.
This can easily make men feel it doesn’t affect them or excludes them, leaving them unsure where to turn to for help. A study by Men’s Health Forum found 10%-30% of participants in weight loss management programmes were men, yet they’re more likely to be overweight or obese than women6.
In England, 67% of men are overweight or obese compared with 61% of women, overtaking women from 25 years old7. Obesity contributes to a whole range of serious health issues, including cancer, coronary heart disease and strokes. It is also helping to fuel the rise in Type 2 diabetes, a condition that men are more at risk of developing than women8, while 12% more UK men than women have diabetes (56% vs 44%)9.
The language around the obesity issue needs to change to be more inclusive and feel relevant for everyone. Being the right weight is about far more than looking good, it is an essential part of being healthy. It is a not a masculine or feminine issue, but one that everyone needs to be concerned with.
Health in the workplace
The workplace provides an excellent opportunity to promote awareness and action on health, particularly for men. If programmes in the community are female-orientated, men can feel awkward joining up. And while they may be nervous about proactively seeking medical advice, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in finding out more. Work can offer a community setting where men feel comfortable and can be exposed to relevant messages.
Signposting to online portals or website links enables men to get confidential information at a time that suits them. Many men also thrive in a team environment and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with it, so introducing programmes that have competitive elements can help to attract more men to become involved.
Tips for making health messages inclusive:
- Think about the language you use – make sure it is not overly feminine or masculine.
- Make information available online and allow employees to access it anonymously.
- Ensure employees can access information at home as well as at work.
- Introduce an element of humour to your communications to make them feel less formal and more accessible.
- Personalise messages as much as possible to create a higher degree of relevancy, but do this in a sensitive and private way so not to cause embarrassment.
- Ask employees what they are interested in and want to know more about to build a dialogue. Explore what differences there are between the genders and develop campaigns accordingly.
- Use non-health related events, like sports or social activities, to raise awareness of health issues, introducing the topic in a more subtle way.
- Consider how a game or a competition might help gain cut-through.
- Encourage employees to create their own action groups to be proactive and build their own supportive communities.
Remember, you won’t be able to get every employee involved. Some people just aren’t interested in their health, but don’t assume these people are men. Many want to live a healthy lifestyle and take care of themselves and will respond enthusiastically to help and support that speaks to them.
For information about our On Course gender, health, work webinar, click here.
5. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type (bladder, bowel, liver, lung, brain tumours)
7. House of Commons Briefing Paper, Number 3336, August 6, 2019, Obesity Statistics
8. Diabetes UK – Us, diabetes and a lot of facts and stats – Jan 2019