Men and wellbeing - reflection on health

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 Feb 2011

21 Feb 2011 • by Changeboard Team

Accessing their last resort

For many men – and it’s fair to say a number of women – it’s often the case that they access health and wellbeing services, such as employee assistance helplines and programmes, when issues and situations have spiralled out of control. Their relationship with their partner may be on the brink of collapse or their employer has called them to a dismissal interview that’s scheduled in the next couple of days, for example.

Although seeking help at this late stage is far better than not asking for support at all, organisations need to think through the reasons why men are more reluctant than women. Perhaps accessing help is counter-culture for many men and, as such, is associated with shame or concern about being perceived as ‘weak’ or unable to cope. Given this background it’s possible to understand why specific attention should be given to setting up a health and wellbeing service that enables and encourages men to access help.

Create a range of access points for men

It is vital that counselling and employee assistance programmes provide men with a number of options when it comes to accessing services. Alongside the more traditional face-to-face sessions there are other methods that are popular with men, perhaps because they are anonymous. Research from the Samaritans, for example, found that men can be more comfortable talking about their concerns online. Other approaches might include offering a text-based service, which might appeal to younger male employees, or offering employees access to online or printed self-help guides or advice literature.

A popular medium for men to access counselling and wellbeing services, though, continues to be face-to-face. However, implementing this type of service needs to be well considered, particularly if, as an employer, you want male employees to feel willing and able to access and make the most of the services on offer.

For example, if your counselling room is located within the organisation, perhaps on a main thoroughfare without a waiting room, it will be of no surprise that men will hardly use it due to confidentiality concerns. A private room with a waiting room that will enable male employees to access the services unnoticed will be much more beneficial. Consideration should also be given to the way in which services are booked; would a reception facility for employees to report to prior to their appointment be most effective in your organisation? Or would your employees prefer to book their sessions remotely?

Whichever is the ‘right’ solution for your organisation, it must offer discretion. After all, no one wants to bump into their boss or a close colleague in the waiting room and individuals will want to feel secure that they cannot be overheard during a counselling session.

Brand your service for maximum effect

When it comes to health and wellbeing services, branding is more than a cute marketing term. It’s what will get potential users excited about your offering and encourage them to access and make the most of the services on offer. ‘Mental health’ can, for example, have a negative association for people, whereas ‘wellbeing’, ‘wellness’ or ‘coaching’ can be used to portray a more up-beat message and get people in a positive frame of mind about the intervention.

Whatever name you decide to brand your service with, it’s important to communicate with potential clients to ensure they understand what you’re trying to do. Case studies (anonymised) of real life male workers using the service, posters in places where men are likely to read them, websites, leaflets, podcasts or ‘credit card’ sized contact information are all ways you can effectively target health and wellbeing communications to male employees (or other specific employee groups, as required).

Ensuring service confidentiality

Confidentiality is the cornerstone of any employee assistance service. It is what makes the service unique for the client and they need to be secure to say what they truly feel without the risk of being undermined, exposed or made fun of.

The importance of confidentiality should never be underestimated. For many men, where else can it really be found in their day-to-day lives? If a male employee is having difficulties with his partner, for example, is a secret gambler or is facing up to drinking too much alcohol, who can he turn to? Yes, they could speak with close friends or family but this can create further issues and can place adverse pressure on these relationships.

The process of counselling involves trust and openness. Counsellors develop this by ‘contracting’ with their clients, which is a way of clarifying the limits of the support on offer and the boundaries of confidentiality. Counsellors work under a strict code of ethics ( which balances the confidentiality of their client with their obligations to society at large. For instance, they may need to break confidentiality where there is a risk of harm to the client or others, where there a serious alleged crime, where there is a legal requirement (such as in the protection of children or prevention of terrorism) or where there is a significant threat to the health and safety of those within an organisation.

Therefore, a counselling service needs to be clear with all parties about what is and what is not confidential. A counselling service where men self-refer, for example, is immediately undermined if the organisation requires the names of people who access the service. Alternatively, by encouraging managers to make referrals to a scheme an organisation is able to track any issues originating in the workplace and therefore take remedial action to prevent or minimise their reoccurrence.

Creating a credible employee assistance service

A counselling support service aimed at male employees needs to carefully consider how it can offer support to a range of the most common issues experienced by this workforce. Having a strong sense of the issues men may wish to discuss and having counsellors who understand this can build employee confidence in the service and create positive ‘word of mouth’ recommendations and referrals to it.

Some of the issues that might be covered by employee assistance and counselling services targeting men in employment include:

  • Access to children
  • Addiction and dependency
  • Bereavement
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Childcare or eldercare issues
  • Debt management
  • Discrimination
  • Divorce and separation
  • Financial, legal and tax issues
  • Gambling
  • Gay, lesbian or gender issues
  • Health, lifestyle and diet
  • Ill-health retirement
  • Redundancy
  • Stress, anxiety and depression
  • Traumatic incident support

Of course, credibility also comes with being able to demonstrate the effectiveness of a health and wellbeing offering – both to individuals and the organisation. Taking steps to measure service awareness and usage as well as the themes being covered will ultimately enable an employer to understand where ‘hot spots’ occur within the business and therefore where further work can be undertaken to reduce their incidence in the future. Tracking the ‘distance covered’ in terms of psychological function is another way of demonstrating that the service is having the desired outcome and can help to answer the question of ‘return on investment’.