Men at Work
Last week I exchanged a few messages with @LizMorris and @melanieshearn about work life balance from a father’s point of view. I promised I would expand on my thoughts, however, I struggled to form a whole series of feelings and intuitive beliefs into any truly cohesive argument. That is until I read Will Hutton’s article in the Observer about boys and work this weekend and it struck me how the two things are intrinsically linked.
The Observer article highlights the increase in male graduate unemployment versus female graduate unemployment, the figures are alarming 17.2% versus 11.2%. Interestingly when I told my 8-year-old daughter about this, she said, “well that makes sense, they don’t work as hard at school”(!) Clearly there is some truth there. Men have always over performed in the workplace compared with their relative educational performance (although male educational performance tends to be at extremes whereas females tend to be clustered more in the middle). Anyway, that is a whole other argument.
Will Hutton (who I admire) goes on to proffer a number of arguments to try to explain the poor performance of the male gender. Key to this he argues is the motivation of these young men. Or lack of motivation. He argues that “if you don’t try, you can’t fail” and that “face-saving” is hugely important to men. I’m just not so sure about this. As someone trying to find work in the mid 90s, I was the recipient of hundreds of rejection letters. I can’t say that was very motivating, nor was it particularly good for my self belief. But I kept on. Why? Because I was brought up to believe that hard work brought rewards. And therefore I was going to work damned hard goddamnit.
But I think this is where the two topics start to come together. Hutton states,
The middle-class boy who diligently works his way up in a company or starts a business is a dupe; far better to try to make tens of millions in the City with zero risk – or not do anything.
I think there is something else at play here. I think these beliefs are driven by the experiences of their fathers. People like me and the people around me. If you are a boy seeing your father come home disheartened from work each day then really are you motivated to go and jump on the same conveyor belt? I think not. So what has happened to the males of Generation X?
Well they have ended up getting neither one thing nor the other. We worked hard and many of us went into corporate careers like we were told to do. We saw the impacts of the recession in the early 90s so we worked even harder to make sure that we were the winners, the successes. We moved, we lived away, we stayed late in the office, we gave our life and souls and we got……..shafted. We saw the pension schemes that we joined closed. We saw the benefits of employment shrunk, organisational structures flattened and the resultant inability to progress without losing our job security by leaving to join other companies.
Meantime we were asked to do more at home. We were supposed to be the perfect father, the perfect husband and the perfect employee. The generation of men that went before us didn’t really understand, in their minds the male was still the breadwinner, the protector, the hunter gatherer. But we were raised by a generation of women that told us that we could not expect our wives to look after us and that we needed to be able to stand on our own two feet. We married a generation of women that were raised by a generation of women that told them they didn’t have to look after their husbands that they were equal.
Apart from we weren’t. Because whilst our partners reduced their hours, started their own businesses, downsized and went in search of meaningful work that they enjoyed – with the financial support of their spouses and the legislative support of successive governments. We were left at the corporate coal face. Demotivated, disengaged and downright unhappy.
Is it any wonder then that the attitude of young males and females are so different to work. As a young female, you look around and see examples of women being able to have fulfilling careers and time and home with their families. You see women doing work that they enjoy. As a young male you see men struggling to balance work and home. To be everything to everyone.
I look around me and I see more and more men trying to make a change. Trying to retrain, relocate, revitalise their lives and their families. But it isn’t easy, you are taking quite a considerable risk in most cases, not just with your life but with the lives of your family. And whilst ironically we have less reason to stay with our employers – security of employment is less certain, long-term benefits and pensions eroded etc. At the same time the current financial climate means that it is only the brave that are taking that step. The rest of us remain corporate hostages.
If you were a young man looking at their male role models in the world of work, would you be rushing off to get involved? Or would you sit on the sidelines as long as you possibly could, surviving on the bank of Mum and Dad? I think I know which one I would choose.