The other side of career versus family

A man’s identity was once chained to his work. That’s changing says John Rich, of Men’s Health and Wellbeing WA.

With eight out of 10 men visiting their GP regularly, and with the focus for Men’s Health Week this year on Healthy Habits, general practice is well placed to support men focus on their wellbeing. 

John Rich

When we think about men’s health, one aspect that often gets overlooked is the close link between work and wellbeing. While family dynamics continue to change, it is still common to see men not just expected to earn an income, but a substantial income as the main wage earner in the family.  

Many men give up aspects of their family life for their career, and the impact of this on their wellbeing can be huge. 

I hear of women compromising their career to have a family and I’m eternally grateful to my mum and so many women in my life for their support. But I’m realising more within my own life, and the lives of men I meet that many men are making sacrifices in other areas of their life for their career.

A career provides many things beside an income, but when it comes to male-dominated roles, they can typically be task-focused, discourage empathy, and lack recognition and praise. 

There’s always the next task to focus on and get started. I realise now that my task-brain was highly developed and typically focused on what was achieved (the past) and what needs to be achieved next (the future). 

So, at knockoff and on the weekend my task brain was supercharged and was unfamiliar with the requirement to be in the present and to recognise and engage in the subtleties of human expression and human interaction.

My work included little to chat about or generate interest around a dinner table. Take into consideration that the job often becomes a large part of a man’s identity, and even more alarmingly his refuge, and it explains how difficult it can be for many when retirement looms.

It’s no wonder that with mounting workplace pressures, increased hours spent away from their family, and workplace cultures that don’t embrace the depth of the human experience, men can struggle with their mental and physical wellbeing. 

It appears there is a turning point – typically when a man gets to around 50 years of age, they embark on searching for something more, or there’s the opportunity to unhook themselves from having to generate a high-income stream.

Where social connection has typically been considered to be the least valuable, more men are coming to understand that it is, and always has been, the most valuable.

There is great value in acknowledging the contributions men make, but there’s also an opportunity to recognise the impact that focusing on career or job can have on their health, and to make changes when change needs to be made. 

It’s important to embrace sensitivity and fragility and communication as the ONLY way forward for all – they are our greatest strength.

However, only one in five men over 45 speak to their GP about their emotional and psychological health. 

The Ten to Men study published in 2021 reports that “men who conformed to traditional masculine norms of stoicism, self-reliance and avoidance of negative emotions, were less socially connected” and noted that “Limited social connectedness – which the report says is more common among Australian males than females – is associated with a variety of poorer mental and physical outcomes and risk behaviours, including depression, substance use, sleep problems and cardiovascular disease”.

Under the theme of Healthy Habits this year, Men’s Health Week is a chance to focus on encouraging men and boys to build healthy habits by identifying small changes they can make that benefit their health and wellbeing. GPs are well-placed to take the opportunity of a standard consultation to check in with men and encourage them to consider making small changes that can impact on their health. 

ED: John Rich is Chairperson of Men’s Health and Wellbeing WA, which is the peak independent not-for-profit charity organisation dedicated to representing and promoting the health and wellbeing of boys and men in Western Australia.