How to make your boss love you
Being healthy isn't just about not smoking, getting fitter and eating your greens. It's also about being emotionally fit to meet life's many challenges, not least the rapidly-changing workplace. In this article. Peter Baker explores how being emotionally A1 could give your working life a much-needed shot in the arm.
One thing is clear: when it comes to work, traditional masculinity has had its day. Let's face it, you don't need much muscle to work for McDonald's or Microsoft and the macho managers who ruthlessly down-sized companies in the 80s and early 90s now seem as outdated as Thatcherism, the political philosophy that helped create them.
In fact, employers are increasingly keen to recruit staff with more of the so-called 'feminine' skills, particularly the ability to communicate well. This is no passing management fad: if you can't - or won't - develop these skills, you could soon find you'll be about as useful as a typewriter and carbon paper to the high-tech, fast-changing, customer-driven companies that will dominate the 21st Century.
In fact, women are now widely believed to make better managers than men. A Management Today magazine survey of 1000 male and female managers found that most believed women are better with customers, more efficient, more trustworthy and more generous and understanding with colleagues than their male counterparts.
'In the past women who aspired to management were encouraged to be more manly - it looks now as if the boot is on the other foot,' comments Management Today's editor Rufus Olins.
The importance employers attach to so-called 'soft skills' is demonstrated by the emergence of a revolutionary new kind of training programme now being introduced in UK workplaces. Forget about going on courses to learn how to use new computer software or manage your time better. They're important, but the top item on your training agenda could soon be going on a 'men's development programme'.
Seriously. This is no joke or something confined to The Body Shop or weird and wacky companies on the fringes of commercial life. You can't get much more mainstream than the telecommunications companies, local authorities, banks and universities now introducing this type of training.
The main men's development programme in the UK is called 'Navigator'. Its director James Traeger says: 'It's clear that if men want to survive in the business world then they've got to demonstrate that they're good with their feelings. Navigator isn't about creating "new men"; it's about enabling men to be more human, more rounded and more wholly themselves.' In other words, developing better emotional health is definitely a good career move.
So what exactly are the 'soft' skills your employer needs? And how can you become a more 'rounded' worker (without switching to a diet of crisps and doughnuts)? Here's a quick guide to improving your emotional fitness for work:
The skill your boss wants: Good communication
Why do you need this skill? Firms that stop talking to their customers and clients in a highly competitive economy based on service industries risk commercial death.
Why don't you have it? Most males are brought up to be strong and silent types. We prefer to get things done, not sit around talking about them.
How can you get it? Practice talking to people about yourself: that means the things that interest you - sport, politics, classic cars - as well as your more personal feelings. Practice listening too: good communication is about waiting until the other person's finished talking before you give your opinion.
The skill your boss wants: Flexibility
Why do you need this skill? The days of demarcation disputes are over: you almost certainly no longer have a job description that clearly lays down specific roles and responsibilities. Instead, you are expected to be adaptable, enabling you to meet ever-shifting demands.
Why don't you have it? Men tend to find it easier to focus on one task at a time rather than juggle competing priorities. One reason why women are more flexible is that they've got used to balancing housework and childcare with paid work.
How can you get it? Learn the hard why by taking on your fair share of domestic responsibilities. Be open to new learning opportunities to broaden your skills at work, enabling you to cope with new demands more easily.
The skill your boss wants: Team-working
Why do you need this skill? Firms are increasingly organising their staff into collaborative teams and you need to be able to work closely with colleagues rather than try to exert power over them.
Why don't you have it? Males are more likely to feel competitive with colleagues, partly because they've been brought up to believe that the male role involves dominating all those around you.
How you can get it? Accept that your self-worth is not determined by your position in the workplace hierarchy. Practice team-working at home by sharing more roles and responsibilities with your partner.
The skill your boss wants: Informality
Why do you need this skill? Organisations are decreasingly hierarchical. Leadership is now primarily dependent on the ability to persuade and influence people rather than barking orders at them.
Why don't you have it? Because men find it harder to communicate and to empathise with others, they often find it easier to use traditional forms of authority.
How you can get it? Shop in The Gap rather than Moss Bros. Learn to become more open with yourself by taking the time to share your feelings with your friends and family as well as colleagues.
The skill your boss wants: Coping with uncertainty
Why do you need this skill? The job for life is about as extinct as a brontosaurus and our working lives are rapidly becoming a mix of different forms of work, including self-employment, contract work and part-time work.
Why don't you have it? Most men have been brought up to take for granted that they'll have permanent and secure work that will enable them to be the breadwinner.
How you can get it? Start planning for the future by working out how you could earn a living from self-employment if your firm made you redundant. Try what women do: if you have a child, put your career on hold by leaving work to do six month's full-time parenting.
The skill your boss wants: Taking personal responsibility
Why do you need this skill? Modern slimmed-down companies are no longer devoting resources to assessing individual employees' training and career development needs. It's down to you.
Why don't you have it? Many men still look to their employer to act like a surrogate parent or partner, reflecting the fact that although they like to act tough, deep-down they can still feel dependent and vulnerable.
How you can get it? Set your own goals for your working life - and everything else that's important to you. Accept that you've had all the parenting you're ever going to get, however good or bad it was. Having a child could help you develop a deeper sense of responsibility; failing that, get a pet.
Acquiring new skills isn't easy, but don't assume you can't do it. An analysis of the changing nature of work by City and Guilds suggests that the prognosis that women will dominate the workforce of the future 'underestimates the ability of men to adapt to what is required of them.'
And there's more good news: to succeed at work you don't need to give up all your traditional masculine qualities. Your boss will still want staff who can act decisively, work independently as well as in teams, cope with long hours and a stressful working environment, adapt quickly to new technologies and compete ruthlessly with business rivals.
Women are succeeding at work because they have been able to add 'male' skills to their repertoire; men now need to do the reverse. It seems clear that ignoring your personal development and emotional health at work will do your career about as much good as turning up late, getting drunk at lunchtime and spending the afternoons playing Tomb Raider. Like any species in a changing environment, men have to evolve - or die.
For more information on how to achieve better emotional health, click here.
For more information about the Navigator programme, click here. Or contact The Springboard Consultancy, Holwell, East Down, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 4NZ. Tel: 061 456 2885.
Peter Baker is editor of malehealth.co.uk.
Do you think men need to acquire new emotional skills to succeed at work? Do you think this is just another passing management fad? Have you done taken steps to improve your emotional fitness? Whatever your views or experiences, we'd like to hear them. All contributions will be published on malehealth.co.uk.
Page created on January 15th, 2001
Page updated on December 1st, 2009