Conditioning vs. reality: Men need to talk too.

Men’s Health Week this year focuses on the numbers we tend to forget about, like the fact that one man in five dies before he is old enough to retire. Or, that 75% of suicides are committed by men. Supporting gender equality in the workplace requires that organisations invest in the wellbeing of all genders, and by knowing the numbers, we can ensure that they do. Too often, we think of the challenges of working parents as belonging to working mothers, but Talking Talent’s Working Parents research showed just how many of the challenges which women face in the workplace effect men too. For example: women find it difficult to keep an interesting job while being a mother – and yes, 44% of women have experienced this – but 53% of new fathers face the same struggle. Perhaps even more surprisingly, more men (66%) than women (60%) feel guilty at not spending enough time with their children.

Recent research published by the influential blogger DaddiLife in partnership with Deloitte highlights the importance of Dads investing in their own mental and physical health in order that they can sustain their performance at home and work. As coaches, we regularly remind Dads of the oxygen mask thought-experiment. Why does the cabin crew tell you not to help others with their masks before you have firmly fixed your own in place? Because you can’t help others without looking after yourself first. Working dads need to be reminded that their physical and mental health are critical to their ability to be their best selves for the families and their colleagues at work. 

Organisations must make supporting working dads and their wellbeing a priority if their employees are going to function as working dads. A core element of our coaching work at Talking Talent involves creating the conditions in which men embarking on their journeys as Dads have the time and space to reflect on what this identity changing experience means for them. Self-care and compassion are the pillars on which great working Dads can build their new identities. Being a good working parent isn’t a project; it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and men have to learn to focus on what they need in the long-term.

Men, particularly millennial fathers, have different needs and face different challenges in how they navigate work, life and home as compared to previous generations. The Daddilife research reported that 45% of Fathers often experience tension with their employers in trying to balance work with their new parenting role. Our own research shows that nearly six in ten (57%) of respondents, both men and women, wanted flexible working hours, but men are more likely to get requests to work from home turned down - - 21% of women have never had a request turned down vs. only 14% of men.

The challenges faced by men may attract less of society’s attention, not to mention its organisational resources, but they still require plenty of support. Almost half (45%) of men reported difficulty in being able to switch off after work and 37% of men stated that their mental health is very or somewhat negatively affected by trying to balance their work and parenting responsibilities.

Initiatives like Men’s Health Week are crucial, because they give men the opportunity to articulate their experiences and in doing so realise that they’re not isolated in the challenges they face. 70% of working fathers expect future generations of dads to take a larger role in the practical aspects of childcare, and to do this, they have to be able to model taking care of themselves. The ability to show vulnerability and demonstrate compassion are skills honed through reflection and talking, and in that sense, looking after their own well-being is a hugely valuable gift Dads can bequeath to their kids.

Rob Bravo, Managing Director, Talking Talent