Men behaving better

British males must change to survive the modern climate at work. But who can they turn to for role models? Women, says COLE MORETON

Dave feels trapped. He works with his hands, as a carpenter for the council, but prospects are bleak and other jobs hard to come by. The only way to get on would be to become his own boss. He'd love to go to college, get a few qualifications, maybe trade in the chisel for a pen. But he can't.

There are plenty of classes; that's not the problem. Studying would mean giving up work, or at least overtime, and he's married, with kids to look after. He's the breadwinner - just like his dad and his grandad and the generations before them. But he's miserable.

So what should Dave do? Get on with life as a chippie, keep it all inside, accept his lot? He'd go crazy. Pack it all in, go home, tell the wife they'll just have to manage? That would scare the living daylights out of her. Explain how he's feeling, see if there's some other way forward that suits them both? He'd feel like a failure as a provider. As a man.

Dave is not unusual. The workplace has changed beyond all recognition in recent years, and millions of men have been left feeling lonely and confused. It is no longer appropriate to behave like our fathers. The old-fashioned ways of making a living are being replaced by new ones that require men to re-educate ourselves, to learn skills that go against all our instincts and breeding.

Sure, there are still macho misogynists out there who pinch the secretary's bum and believe that business is a jungle, but they are beginning to look as dated as a Seventies sex comedy. The new ways of working are all about communication, flexibility, team-work and the ability to do several things at the same time. The world of modern employment requires men, in other words, to behave more like women.

The way to achieve this, according to several large corporations, is to learn from the women's movement. For the last decade, the Springboard Employment Consultancy has been running personal development courses for female employees, helping them to set and meet their own life goals. Now it has launched a similar course for men.

The Navigator Programme has been seized on by the NatWest and Midland banks, the car manufacturer Mazda, and by a dozen other private and public sector companies. It's not the big-shot executives they want to reshape, but the men lower down the ranks.

"The biggest surprise was how unhappy most people were in their jobs," says Mark, who took part in a Navigator course along with 15 fellow employees. His name has been changed, by request. "The men felt they were in a cul- de-sac and couldn't move, either because they didn't have the qualifications or they needed to provide for their families."

The gap between these men and their managers seemed unbridgeable, and each felt alone in their misery. "There was a real sense of relief after hearing other people say the same things I felt," says Mark. "You think you're the only one going though this, but it's not true."

Navigator is run in four full-day sessions spread over three months. Working in groups or in pairs, the participants discuss what it means to be a man both at work and at home. They draw pictures to illustrate their ambitions, do homework, and act as coaches to each other during the course. The subjects taught include how to recognise feelings and understand relationships, how to reduce stress, communication skills, listening techniques and how to be more assertive.

The idea of assertiveness training for men when we still have the top jobs, earn more money than women and push them about as a matter of habit will have some sisters shrieking in disbelief. But that reaction, like Dave's emotional paralysis, comes from misunderstanding what it means to be assertive.

It's not about getting your own way. According to the experts, it's all about being sufficiently aware of your own needs and the needs of others so that you are able to work out solutions to suit everyone. And this is one of the primary skills that you need to survive in the modern workplace.

Assertiveness has been a buzzword of the women's movement for at least two decades, but Ben Williams, a psychologist based in Edinburgh, believes men have to approach their new Holy Grail from a completely different direction, because childhood teaches boys to look after themselves and girls to be more concerned about those they love.

"Women realised that if they were going to get anywhere, they had to show concern not only for others but also for themselves, for their own desires. When people learn new things there are always those who go too far - hence the shoulder pads of the Eighties, the swinging handbags and the Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher as a man. Men are starting to realise that they have to change in the opposite direction in order to survive: they are learning to be assertive by showing concern for others as well as for themselves."

Of course, there are always some who overdo it: "They're the New Age men who become house-husbands and start knitting their own yoghurt."

Others are hamstrung by their desire to fit in. "They have difficulty arguing or having conflicts with people of the opposite sex because they're so scared of being seen as predatory males, or of being accused of sexual discrimination or politically incorrect behaviour."

Back in the days when Britain had a manufacturing industry to speak of, it was easy to tell whether you had done a good job, just by holding the finished product up to the light. Now the new jobs are in the service industries, where success is evaluated in terms of customer satisfaction, brand loyalty and other concepts that are measured in more intangible ways.

Work used to be done with hands and machines. Now it is done with brains and machines. It is not so physically heavy, and is often computer-aided, but requires a broader range of skills. The Situations Vacant columns used to be full of

employers looking for thrusting, go-getting executives - now they want team players, persuaders, and leaders who can also care for customers and colleagues.

"The macho male manager does not go down well in the workplace any more," says Olwyn Burgess, director of career management at the CEPEC consultancy. "The most successful consultants, for example, are women - or men with very sensitive sides."

Women also flourish more than men in occupations that require them to work on several tasks simultaneously, like health care or the media. "Women can juggle a lot of things at once and cope with anything that's thrown at them, at work or in the home. In general, men tend to focus on one thing and do it well. If they are given another task while they're concentrating on that one, it is like having a stool knocked from under them, and they find it difficult to balance."

Those who do get the jobs are are more likely to work part-time, on a short-term contract or be self-employed. "The biggest change is the disappearance of the job for life," says Jenny Daisley, who developed the Navigator course with her colleague James Traeger. "A man used to know that he could start at the bottom of a company, stay with it throughout his life, and work his way up. The last recession finished that idea off completely."

Moving from job to job often means retraining, which can be painful and financially difficult. "The things you took to work years ago are not relevant any more," says Steve Roberts of Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, who took the Navigator course last year. "You have to takle a couple of steps back to go three forward, and that's not easy to swallow."

Steve made the move himself when he gave up working as a joiner after 25 years. A flirtation with pub management turned out to be a disaster, partly because he imposed the decision on his wife and children. "I decided on their behalf that this was the right thing. I was wrong." For that reason he would strongly advise men like Dave to go home and talk it over. "When you do that you generally find that all the pressure is self-imposed."He made the transition from skilled manual worker to working in the council's media office via a temporary job answering telephones.

Navigator was a revelation to him. "It's the first time I've ever come across a forum like that. Lads need to talk about their fears. They feel much better afterwards. We are behind women in a lot of ways. Once lads knew that no-one in that room was going to laugh at us, we could speak about things that would never be mentioned in the pub. "

Helping in the home was one such taboo. When a sheepish participant confessed that although it wasn't manly he did do the hoovering and occasionally cooked tea, the others admitted that they, too, got their hands dirty. "Lads found out that it was nothing to be ashamed of."

That may be amusing to anyone who has already broken with tradition to share domestic chores, but for those men (and their partners) it was potentially life-changing. "It's not easy to change your habits after a four-day course," says Steve. "But I'm testing it out, both at home and in the workplace."

The results could be crucial, as the psychologist Ben Williams says: "Those who do adapt will find it easier to get promoted and survive. Those who do not are the dinosaurs. They will get found out."

employers looking for thrusting, go-getting executives - now they want team players, persuaders and leaders who can also care for their customers and colleagues.

"The macho male manager does not go down well in the workplace any more," says Olwyn Burgess, director of career management at the CEPEC consultancy. "The most successful consultants, for example, are women - or men with very sensitive sides."

Women also flourish more than men in the occupations that require them to work on several tasks simultaneously, in fields like health care or the media. "Women can juggle lots of things at once and cope with anything that's thrown at them, at work or in the home. Men tend to focus on one thing and do it well. If they're given another task while they're concentrating on the first, it's like having a stool knocked from under them."

Those who do get the new jobs are more likely to work part-time, on short- term contracts, or to be self-employed. "The biggest change is the disappearance of the job for life," says Jenny Daisley, who developed the Navigator course with her colleague James Traeger. "A man once knew that he could start at the bottom of a company, stay with it throughout his life, and work his way up. The last recession finished that idea off completely."

Moving from job to job often means retraining, which can be painful and financially difficult. Steve Roberts of Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council took the Navigator course last year. "You have to take a couple of steps back to go three forward, and that's not easy to swallow."

Steve made this move himself when he gave up working as a joiner after 25 years. A flirtation with pub management turned out to be a disaster, partly because he imposed the change on his wife and children. "I decided on their behalf that this was the right thing. I was wrong." For that reason alone, he would strongly advise men like Dave to go home and talk things over. "When you do that, you generally find that all the pressure is self-imposed." He made the transition from being a skilled manual worker to working in the council's media office, via a temporary job answering telephones.

Navigator was a revelation to him. "It's the first time I've ever come across a forum like that. Lads need to talk about their fears, they feel much better afterwards. We are behind women in a lot of ways. Once the lads knew no one in that room was going to laugh at us, we could speak about things that would never be mentioned in the pub. "

Helping in the home was one such taboo. When a sheepish participant confessed that, although it wasn't manly, he did do the Hoovering and occasionally cooked the tea, others admitted that they, too, got their hands dirty around the house. "Lads found out that it was nothing to be ashamed of," says Steve.

This may amuse anyone who has already broken with tradition to share domestic chores, but for these men (and their partners) it was life-changing. "It's not easy to alter all your habits after a four-day course," says Steve. "But I'm testing it out, at home and at work."

The results could be crucial, as the psychologist Ben Williams says: "Those who do adapt will find it easier to get promoted and to survive. Those who don't are the dinosaurs. They will be found out."

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