Addressing men’s health issues in the workplace
In the UK, one man in five dies before he reaches 65, according to data by UK charity Men’s Health Forum. Many illnesses can be treated and cured if they are detected early, but research shows that primary care consultations are 32% lower for men than women in the UK. Men are generally less likely than women to acknowledge illness or to seek help when sick. Further, men are twice as likely to have inadequate health literacy than women, according to Men’s Health Forum.
Men’s reluctance to talk about health issues and most importantly, to consult a doctor when they have complaints, are widely seen as major barriers for improvement in men’s health statistics.
Coronary heart disease (CAD) accounts for 1 in 8 of every male deaths in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation. While the causes are typically due to lifestyle factors like smoking and obesity, as well as conditions such as diabetes, family history may also play a role. Monitoring the levels of cholesterol and other blood lipids regularly can, particularly if the condition is caught early, even reverse the consequences.
An unhealthy lifestyle is part of the problem. In England, 41 % of the male population is considered overweight while 27% is obese, according to the latest obesity statistics from the House of Commons. The picture looks worse in higher age groups. A high Body Mass Index (BMI) increases the risk of heart disease, of developing low testosterone, of developing cancer, as well as diabetes.
Source: Briefing Paper Number 3336, 12 January 2021, Obesity Statistics
Obesity is a major driver of diabetes. Audits suggest that about 56 per cent of all adults with diabetes in the UK are men, according to Diabetes UK. If not treated, diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, and problems with the kidneys, eyes, gums, feet and nerves. Low levels of testosterone in men could increase their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes symptoms include feeling very thirsty, urinating more frequently than usual, particularly at night as well as blurred vision. Many people have type 2 diabetes for years without realising because the early symptoms tend to be quite general. It is very important for diabetes to be diagnosed as early as possible because it will get progressively worse if left untreated.
The pandemic has further reduced the interaction between patients and GPs. This is likely to have caused an increasing number of illnesses remain undiagnosed. Overall, the number of urgent cancer referrals has dropped to around 25% of usual levels in England during the pandemic. As with many other diseases, an early diagnosis of cancer can be lifesaving. Prostate cancer, which only affects men, can be diagnosed through a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that measures the level of PSA. Prostate cancer can be treated if detected early.
Another issue that is having a very destructive impact on the male population is mental health: Three quarters of all suicides in the UK are male, according to the Office for National Statistics. The data suggest that men have a long way to go to tackle mental health problems adequately. Having the courage to visit a healthcare professional and being able to talk openly in a safe environment is hugely important to address the underlying issues and improve wellbeing.
As part of their duty of care, businesses should help drive this conversation among staff. Men need to know and monitor their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. In doing so, many illnesses that kill men such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer can be prevented.
Businesses should therefore have the relevant information available for staff on which screenings men should do on a regular basis and the best way to go about it. Digital options can make sure that this process is kept anonymous and confidential.
Recommendations for businesses:
- make healthier lifestyle choices possible for all staff, especially men
- remove barriers to men accessing health services
- make services easy-to-use, convenient, confidential and most of all anonymous through digital solutions
- nominate advocates for men’s health to help build momentum, beat the drum and run educational sessions
- male leaders in the organisation talking about their challenges can reduce stigma
Lockton and Peppy have recently hosted a webinar on this topic. You can listen to the recording here.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gaps in employee benefits programmes in many jurisdictions, particularly where social security protection is sketchy. Whilst these gaps may have been plugged hastily, a thorough audit of corporate programmes gives multinational companies the opportunity to enhance the level of cover needed to boost employee morale whilst leveraging economies of scale to keep costs down.
Companies have a vested interest in protecting employees’ mental health and ignoring it can have moral, legal, reputational and economic consequences.
As the Covid-19 vaccination programme progresses, many companies are looking to implement a hybrid-working model offering their staff a degree of flexibility between working from home and from the office. Corporate wellness programmes will need to adjust to this new reality.
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the way people work, perhaps irrevocably. The health and wellbeing lessons we have learned during this last year are likely to inform our approach to employee benefits long into the future. Before the pandemic, looking at each employee benefit separately was less than ideal, but now it is more essential than ever to take a holistic view of corporate benefits programmes.