The qualities that men need in the workplace have changed. A study of 16 professional Canadian men found that traditional male behaviour no longer serves them well.
Traditional male values such as infallibility, individualism, posturing, dominance and working long hours may have served men well in industrial settings but they are counterproductive in knowledge-based businesses. Automation has eliminated a lot of industrial jobs and the participation by women in the workplace has changed the culture of work.
Behaviour that was once a virtue is now a liability.
Even behaviour-changes in industrial settings can improve productivity. One study done on an oil drilling platform where macho values prevailed showed that these values could be “undone” once status was linked to learning, admitting mistakes, and collectivism over individualism:
“As a result, the company’s accident rate dropped by 84 percent, and productivity, efficiency, and reliability of production all came to surpass industry benchmarks.
Studies have repeatedly shown that working more hours leads to poorer outcomes in everything from communication and judgment calls to increased insurance costs and employee turnover (The design of everyday men -A new lens for gender equality progress by Deloitte Doblin).”
The men in the study worked for large businesses of more than 5,000 employees. They represented a range of family and marital statuses, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds.
Four attitudes stood out.
- “It’s on me.” Men place enormous pressure on themselves to handle responsibilities on their own. Corporate cultures that prioritize individualism over collectivism risk burning out their people and devaluing collaboration, where responsibilities and trust should be more equally shared.
- “I’m terrified.” Men are afraid of failure, which leads them to overcompensate with hypercompetitive behaviour to mask their insecurity. The most ambitious people may also be the most insecure which puts their long-term performance at risk; they also set an unrealistic expectations for the dedication required to be successful in the organization.
- “I can’t turn to anyone.” Personal relationships and vulnerable interactions help to alleviate pressure and fear, but men have difficulty building these connections.
- “Show me it’s okay.” Men look to leaders and peers in their organizations to understand what behaviours are acceptable. Policies and programs for change are not enough; senior leaders need to role-model and reward the behaviours they want to see in order to establish new norms for people to follow.
Without a change in corporate culture, old values persist. One of the men studied, Lyron, says, “I will never ask for help. I will stay up as long as it takes for me to figure out how to do something before I ask somebody senior how to get it done.”
Anand says he talks about superficial things with co-workers like what they did on the weekend but never about deeply personal things: “The fact that we have had a miscarriage, I wouldn’t even have occasion to talk about. Nobody at work knew, except for my boss because I had to ask for time off.”
Businesses have been slow to integrate changes in male behaviour. Men can become stronger and more productive by shaking off the mantles of the past but it’s going to take a change in corporate values starting at the top.