Supporting men to bring their authentic selves to work

International Men's Day, Group of men at work,

Article by Ian Elam, Chief Commercial Officer, BeYourselfAtWork

When it comes to talking openly about men’s mental health, giant strides have been made in recent years, driven largely by the pandemic.

Never as a society have we been so accepting of mental health issues or spoken so openly about the toll that our work life can take on our mental wellbeing. It is perhaps one of the most positive changes to come out of Covid.

While this is a major step forward that should be celebrated, we must acknowledge that much work is still to be done. For many men, stigma remains around discussing mental health in the workplace and many continue to battle in silence. According to our research, men are 22% more critical of themselves in their inner conversations than woman, and a massive 70% of those surveyed said they don’t talk to themselves positively.

This negative self-talk is highly damaging to the mental health of men, many of whom feel forced to take time off or, in the worst case scenarios, leave jobs because they no longer feel able to continue working. One in three men has taken time off for poor mental health at some point in their careers, according to the digital health app, Peppy. It’s a worryingly high statistic and one that should prompt all organisations into immediate action.

It is also why focusing on health and wellbeing – socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually – continues to be one of the core objectives of International Men’s Day. Held on November 19, and now in its 30th year, there will no doubt be many voices that continue to argue that men do not need a dedicated day, but this view misses the point of what it is trying to achieve.

The theme of this year’s day is helping men and boys; nothing will help them, their colleagues and workplaces more than understanding how to bring their authentic selves into work. Only by breaking down long-standing societal stereotypes about being strong, unemotional, tough, aggressive and brimming with confidence, can we build more empathetic and supportive workplace environments for all.

According to the 2021 Indeed Workplace Happiness Survey, 72% of people say work happiness is important when considering a future job, yet in Indeed’s 2022 Workplace Happiness Score,  11% say they feel unhappy less than six months into a new role. It is no surprise when you consider that [email protected] research shows that just 16% of people feel able to be themselves at work.

Organisations need to foster more empathetic environments where everyone  is encouraged to discard unhelpful workplace personas in favour of understanding their values and what that can bring to their roles. For men, this empathy will have a different emphasis if they are going to be able to see work as an opportunity for self-expression and self-discovery, creating happier teams that are more productive, more satisfied, less stressed, and work for everyone.

Understanding that empathy is a crucial part of creating happier workplaces, however, and building an empathetic workplace is not the same thing. The 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, published by management consultancy Business Solver, found that 92% of CEOs say their organisation is empathetic – yet only 72% of workers say they work for an empathetic business. That figure was down 6% from previous years, so identifying where that empathy gap exists is vital for all organisations.

Too many of us remain a slave to traditional gender roles, which means that an empathetic environment needs to be adapted to allow both men and women to thrive, separately and together. Often this will mean the same thing: strong communication, and encouraging everyone to value the unique talents of their colleagues while owning their own individual strengths.

But for the men who feel like they have to wear their “bloke mask” – the ones who put pressure on themselves to behave a certain way, who are afraid to admit they lack confidence, whose inner world is not such a happy place – workplace empathy means helping them to drop the façade and be themselves.

It has never been more important for workplaces to tackle burnout and stress, but its causes will differ by gender as well as by the individual, demanding a range of approaches from enlightened companies.

An empathetic and supportive environment will reduce staff absences and improve retention while building a culture that encourages people to be themselves. With a fierce recruitment market that is becoming more challenging, this is precisely the kind of workplace culture that will benefit everyone who works there, helping your business to stand out from the pack.

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