To mark National Men's Health Week, which runs throughout this week, Jeff Archer explains why men-only wellbeing initiatives at work are getting the message across.
It may seem like a step backwards in the fight for equality, but targeting men exclusively has become an effective new weapon in the fight to shape up the nation's workforce.
With wellbeing initiatives and healthy living programmes now a feature in the majority of businesses across the nation, the focus of attention has moved away from whether investing in the wellness of staff is a worthwhile proposition and on to how businesses achieve the best return on their investment in these schemes.
For many businesses the value of these schemes is measured financially by examining related costs and savings, primarily staff absence, staff turnover and productivity. For other organisations, the success of wellness programmes is judged by the number of people who get involved in the initiatives and the impact such programmes have on behaviour and performance. Confident that wellness initiatives work, the focus of those organising the programmes is now clearly fixed on maximising engagement and uptake of the programmes.
One major challenge in this area is how to involve more men. Traditionally, the female members of the workforce are keen to learn as much as they can about healthy eating, efficient exercise techniques, weight management, stress relief and how to balance work and life. Men on the other hand, in true 'no I'm not stopping to ask for directions' fashion, can be reluctant to take advice in these areas.
At best they feel they already know everything they need to know about achieving peak personal performance, either because they read the daily sports pages of the newspaper or because they once had a try out for West Ham United FC when they were 15. At worst they just don’t think taking care of themselves is a priority and they adopt an ‘I didn’t get where I am today by drinking water and eating salads’ approach. They may even think that their health isn’t their responsibility, a theory given credence by the fact that often when wellness initiatives with male-skewed themes are arranged, it’s the women who attend to gather information for their men folk at home.
So how exactly do you capture the imagination of the men in your organisation and engage their enthusiasm in the health and wellbeing initiative you’ve spent time and energy setting up?
Promote performance, not health
Teaching men about staying healthy doesn’t appear to have much impact. They like to think of themselves as corporate warriors battling through each day to be the best they can be and see off the competition. Make sure that when targeting men with wellbeing, you focus your messages on performance, energy, planning, competing and getting great results by being as fit and sharp as you can be each day.
Even the best can get better
Men don’t like to think they’re doing something wrong, particularly when it comes to the basics of staying in good physical and mental shape. Messages to generate interest in wellbeing should be communicated in a way that suggests, ‘If you’re already performing well, just think what you might be capable of with a few small tweaks here and there to your daily strategies and routines’ rather than adopting a ‘don’t do that, do this’ type approach.
Take advantage of the team spirit
Ensure your initiatives are appropriate to your target audience and then communicate them clearly. Different initiatives will be appropriate for different levels of the hierarchy in the business, for example one-to-one lifestyle coaching will probably appeal more to middle and senior level staff while some group initiatives will work better for other staff. Remember though that men like team events and bonding, and well-targeted initiatives such as football leagues, running clubs and team challenges can bind all levels of an organisation together in a way that the everyday running of the business just doesn’t get close to.
Fortunately for the organisations that follow this advice, the results of applying these principals are dramatic, tangible and quick. One of the UK’s leading pharmaceutical companies managed to get an unprecedented 10% of their male workforce signed up for wellness sessions within a couple of hours of announcing them. The men in the business appreciated the fact that their needs were being catered for specifically, despite the fact that female staff members had been enjoying similar sessions for months previously.
In addition to increased male turn out for these specific sessions, the business also reported an upturn in the figures for men taking advantage of other health-related benefits such as medical screenings. Our approach of delivering the right messages around healthy living during the sessions, meant that the men were much happier to take responsibility for their own wellbeing without feeling harangued into it. The delivery style of the messages was the key to the success.
So, by placing emphasis on fitness training techniques, fuelling for performance and learning new ways to balance the mental and the physical challenges of life, men are more willing to join in initiatives, take wellbeing advice and start applying it to their lives straight away. And as more businesses enjoy greater results in these areas, the more motivated, focused and successful the nation's workforce will become.
National Men's Health Week 2009
runs from 15 to 21 June – it's the perfect excuse to rollout some men-only wellness initiatives and get the guys in the office inspired.
Jeff Archer is director at The Tonic, a health and wellbeing consultancy helping businesses and their staff achieve peak performance