Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Encouraging male colleagues to reach out when they need extra support at work

It was back in the 1980s that The Cure sang about the fact that Boys Don’t Cry – men are conditioned from a young age not to display negative emotions. This can make it hard later in life for men to seek out the help and support they need, especially at work.

It’s a situation we’ve all been in – feeling the need to reach out for support, but not quite sure how to go about it, or how it will be viewed by colleagues, especially when we are well established in our careers and lots of other people look to us for support and guidance. However, the reluctance for male colleagues can be even more acute than for their female counterparts.

There are many reasons why this might be the case, not least the conditioning to bottle up emotions boys often face when they’re young. Male colleagues may be so out of tune with the emotional side of their make-up that they do not actually recognise that they need help. We, as colleagues, may notice changes in their behaviour and personality before they do.

The following signs are common in people who are struggling:

  • Becoming withdrawn – spending more time alone focused on their work
  • Losing interest in what’s going on around them
  • Not being as confident or outspoken as they have been previously
  • Missing deadlines or not being as productive as usual

What you can do

The mental health charity, MIND, feels here is some evidence that men are more likely to seek help if a friend or colleague encourages them to do so – especially if it’s a female partner or someone who offers advice in a professional capacity, e.g. occupational health. They theorise that the ‘interference’ of a third party helps to legitimise the issues they’re facing, which means male colleagues are more likely to then seek help.

So, the first thing we can do if we suspect a colleague may be struggling, is to let them know our concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone outright if there’s something wrong, start by showing an interest in them. Ask them for their opinions and build trust with them in the hope that they may open up to you voluntarily in the near future. At the very least, you’ll be paving the way for a more serious conversation about the support they may need later on.

Secondly, find out what support services are on offer within your organisation and share that information with your colleague. Sometimes, a well-placed flyer or telephone number could be enough to prompt your colleague into seeking the additional support they need. The thought that someone’s struggles are affecting their work – and that it has been noticed - could be enough for them to address whatever is bothering them.

For managers, or other people in a position of influence within your workplace, e.g. employee representatives, making suggestions to introduce practices that can help support the whole team not only helps the colleague you’re worried about, but also the rest of the workforce. These suggestions could include mindfulness practices, stress reduction and time management techniques; workplace counselling services; or occupational relaxation therapies, like massage and accupuncture.

If the above interventions don’t seem to help, it might be beneficial to speak to another colleague about your concerns. HR departments are trained to deal with matters that are impacting on people’s ability to do their job. You can ask to speak to someone in confidence and share your concerns.

For more information about stress reduction in the workplace, you can read our previous blog post Feel free to print it off and leave it around the office, if you think it will help others!

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