In recent years, mental health has been a growing priority for both employers and staff members, with more and more people understanding the benefits of good mental health in and out of the workplace.
Unfortunately, even though good mental health is such an important aspect of workplace wellbeing, it is still something that many people still struggle to maintain. Anxiety, stress and depression are all still daily realities for many of us, and awareness campaigns such as Movember and International Men's Day have increased our knowledge of the particular dangers this holds for men.
In fact, a recent survey shows that 32% of men blame their workplace for their mental health problems. Considering that three-in-four people who commit suicide are men, recognising mental health struggles should be a priority for any business, especially those employing a majority male team.
Meditation, though perhaps an untapped resource for most men, has scientifically proven benefits for both the mind and the body. By introducing men to self-care tools such as meditation - whether that's mindfulness, mantra or one of the many alternative meditations - businesses can take steps to ensure that their male staff members are getting the resources and help they need in order to cope with any work-related or personal issues.
The State of Men’s Mental Health
A survey conducted by Men’s Health Forum recently revealed that 34% of men feel constantly stressed or under pressure. With thousands of years of social conditioning placing men in roles associated with breadwinning, leadership, pragmatism and strength, it is hardly surprising that stress is such a common mental health struggle.
Although mental health is an important issue for both men and women, there is a statistical precedent for men being affected by these problems in slightly different ways. It is not just the volume of men suffering from mental illness that is concerning; rather, it’s the way in which they cope (or do not cope) with their problems that should be a part of the dialogue concerning men’s wellbeing.
Studies tell us that mental health problems like depression are far more common amongst women than men, but we also know that men are not as adept at dealing with these problems due to the stigmas that are placed upon them. They are less likely to seek medical help, and far more likely to turn to destructive coping mechanisms, such as drugs or alcohol consumption.
Despite the various other stigmas placed upon them, women are at least allowed the space to deal with and express their emotions without it impacting their femininity. Men, on the other hand, often find themselves part of a socialization process that strips them of their masculinity if they demonstrate emotions such as sadness, hurt or vulnerability. For this reason, men living with depression or anxiety will sometimes carry on as usual (in a phenomenon sometimes known as “high-functioning” anxiety), while secretly struggling.
It would be easy to dismiss meditation as a practice that would simply never work in a male dominated environment, such is the power these taboos hold in society. However, with such a high suicide rate amongst young men, it is more vital than ever that businesses place a greater emphasis on breaking the stigma that prevents men from dealing with any negative feelings they may have.
Start With a Conversation
For a large number of men, talking to anyone about their mental struggles is already a big hurdle. In fact, a recent US study narrowed down the causes of the links between men’s mental health and conformity to 11 social norms, amongst which was a need for emotional control. This problem can manifest itself even more in male dominated industries, as employers are more likely to also be male, and thus prone to these same issues.
Though these same social stigmas apply to male employers, it falls to them to lead the way in starting conversations surrounding mental illness and work related issues. However, when implementing corporate wellbeing strategies, it is unlikely that most male employers will be familiar with the concept of meditation, in or out of the workplace.
It is important, therefore, that employers make it a priority to discuss these options openly in the workplace. For example, introducing the idea of meditation and its benefits during a staff meeting can be a great way of reaching out to a large number of people, and inviting the opportunity for further conversations in private.
In order to ensure that the concept of meditation will not simply be dismissed in more male dominated work environments, it’s important to carefully consider how you introduce it. For example, for men working in industries that rely on a rigorous schedule, meditation may not be considered a priority, even if they are open to the idea. Creating a discourse surrounding meditation that emphasises its accessibility in the modern world may help to encourage men to schedule in those 20 minutes per day.
Empower Employees with Self-Help tools
However accessible meditation has become, even for people working hectic jobs, it’s still a practice that can still seem alien to many people - particularly men. With studies showing that over 60% more women practice meditation than men, it falls to employers to ensure that their male staff are educated and comfortable with the idea of meditation in the workplace as a tool to improve their mental health.
The Men’s Health Forum survey revealed that for many men, the fear of repercussions in the workplace - such as an impact on career progression - prevents them from coming forward with their problems. By investing time in wellbeing practices and taking part in them themselves, managers can send a positive message to staff that there will be no negative consequences for men struggling with their mental health.
Even for those who have already expressed their mental health concerns to their management, the suggestion of meditation may still elicit a dubious or reluctant reaction. By involving the entire team, individual staff members do not feel singled out and are far more likely to open themselves up to these new experiences.
Meditation After Hours
Meditation workshops can also be an efficient way to make management and employees more self sufficient, and confident enough to meditate without assistance. Though meditating in the workplace every day may be possible for companies with regular working hours, for industries that operate under shift patterns, this may not be an option.
In these circumstances, encouraging meditation outside of work hours and providing staff with the appropriate resources and information they need can be a great alternative. For example, pamphlets and posters are likely to be ignored by most people, whereas promoting apps and podcasts related to meditation could encourage even the busiest of people to try them out in their own time.
For some men, meditating at home may even be preferable to mediating in the workplace amongst colleagues and managers. In fact, for men suffering from anxiety or stress, group meditation at work may prevent them from fully immersing themselves and relaxing enough to experience the benefits that meditation can bring.
For the majority of men, it is the stigma surrounding mental health that prevents them from seeking advice or treatment for their problems. This silence concerning mental wellbeing is particularly prominent in male dominated industries, and can manifest itself in far more serious issues, both at work and in their personal lives. Whether the pressure to stay silent comes from internal struggles or exterior influences, one thing is certain - creating a non-judgemental work environment is the first step in encouraging men to come forward.
For some men, however, being able to come to terms with their own mental struggles can be hard enough on its own. Introducing meditation into the workplace can help men to connect to their thoughts and feelings, and to deal with them in a healthy way. Though serious mental health problems in the workplace should be dealt with by a trained HR professional, meditation - whether it is during work hours or at home - can be enjoyed and practiced by anyone, and can help to create a positive environment that prioritises mental wellbeing.