Men have the most to gain from changing behaviours when it comes to their health and employers can be important change agents. IT’S NOT NEWS that if you’re male your life expectancy is lower than for women. Not much we can do about - it’s simply ‘our lot’, a quirk of biology, right?
Men have the most to gain from changing behaviours when it comes to their health and employers can be important change agents.
IT’S NOT NEWS that if you’re male your life expectancy is lower than for women. Not much we can do about - it’s simply ‘our lot’, a quirk of biology, right?
Well maybe. But what’s interesting is that the incidence of preventable deaths for men is also significantly higher than for women. Men are almost ten percent more likely than women to die as a result of something that could have been avoided, for example through better screening and a healthier lifestyle. Nothing to do with biology – this is all about how we men behave.
As the 2011 Australian Institute of Health & Welfare report, The health of Australia’s males, states: “males have a shorter life expectancy, higher mortality from most causes of death (particularly injuries and intentional self-harm) and a higher lifetime risk of many cancers and chronic conditions. Overall, males are more likely than females to smoke, use illicit drugs and to be overweight and obese”.
THE FACT IS men seem to be less inclined to take care of their health than women. Men are less likely to report that they have a GP check-up at least annually than women (49% compared with 62%).
We are less likely to talk about health issues to friends and family and we have a remarkable ability to ‘switch off’ when it comes to our own physical and mental health issues - until it’s too late.
Figures from 2008 showed men were two and a half times more likely to die from skin cancer and diseases of the liver, twice as likely to die of lung cancer (although the gap with women is closing), and 1.7 times more likely to die of heart disease. Prostate cancer was an underlying cause of death for more men than breast cancer was for women.
And if we look at younger men we see a high incidence of other types of avoidable death. Suicide accounts for 20% of deaths in this age group and, as Lifeline tells us, with the right intervention suicide is almost always preventable.
So what is the take out for employers – especially those whose workforce is predominantly male?
It suggests that a well designed workplace wellness program which changes behaviours, keeps health issues in focus and covers mental as well as physical health is well worthwhile. Also that there is a strong case for wellness programs designed specifically for men.
It’s something that many WA employers with predominantly male workforces have understood. Boral Bricks uses HBF’s Corporate Wellness services to provide a comprehensive program for its overwhelmingly male workforce that includes advice on nutrition and healthy eating, back care and the importance of a strong core; plus workshops on men’s health.
AT WORK employees are a captive audience. At home men may turn a blind eye to health symptoms (and a deaf ear to their family) but that can be harder in a workplace with a wellness program.
And while some men will need strong encouragement before they confront their health issues, many others will simply need a safe environment to talk about their health and learn strategies for living more healthily.
Workplaces can even compensate for poor health practices at home. With just one in twenty men eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables, workplace canteens and cafés will either be part of the problem or part of the solution to the poor nutrition of most men.
Mental health should be a priority in a wellness program targeted at men. Nearly half of all males have had a mental health issue but while issues such as depression, anxiety and stress are allowed to remain taboo topics men will continue to suffer in silence, with serious impacts on their performance at work as well as in their personal life.
Programs to encourage physical activity can also tap into the competitive streak that runs through many men. In my own workplace, HBF, over 450 employees now take part in the Global Corporate Challenge, with many men openly competing eagerly against their workmates to clock up the most steps during the 100 day event. The same applies to team events like the HBF Run for a Reason where the number of corporate teams has trebled since 2010 as many organisations make it a part of their workplace wellness program.
Many men have a remarkable ability to put their own health low on the list of priorities, focusing instead on things like their career or simply providing for their family. Employers who help their male employees to make their health a top priority have as much to gain as the employees themselves.