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The empathy gap – how leaders can promote positive conversations around men’s well-being

As the month of November advances, many men are sporting moustaches in honour of the Movember campaign whilst International Men’s Day itself is earmarked for the 19th. This year, the premise upon which both of these campaigns are built, that of promoting positive conversations around men’s health and wellbeing, is more important than ever before.

In an industry recognised for being dominated by “alpha males” and offering the ultimate protection to others, it is often easy to lack the empathy and understanding required to remember that operatives are still human beings who themselves experience life challenges and difficult times.

Arguably one of the biggest challenges is that we do not often associate empathy with manliness but when it comes to business success, having empathy is essential for a happy workforce and, male dominated or otherwise, the security industry is no exemption.

Empathy and the psychology behind it

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience, perspective and feelings. Also called “vicarious introspection,” it is commonly described as the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes whilst making sure you are assessing how they would feel in their shoes, not how you would feel. That is perhaps the more difficult part.

A common misconception is that we are born with dramatically differing levels of empathic ‘ability’ but research has proven that empathy is, in fact, a skill that we can all hone and refine. Neurologically, we are all born with a very similar ability to empathise, it is our choice to use this ability that varies greatly.

When it comes to leaders, those with empathy do more than just sympathise with the people around them – they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways. This does not mean simply agreeing with what everybody says, it is about thoughtfully considering their employees’ feelings in making intelligent decisions.

Using empathy to create a psychologically safe workplace

Empathy, then, is a softer tool within the business toolkit but it can ultimately lead to hard, tangible results. Think of it as an emotional, thinking muscle that becomes stronger the more we use it. So how can we work this muscle to encourage our people to open up, safe in the knowledge that they are in a safe space to do so?

At Valorous, our people are our biggest asset and, so protecting them through the creation of an empathetic working environment forms a fundamental part of our ethos. Some of the key ways we facilitate this is through:

  1. TIME – this is one of the most precious things you can give someone. In the military, a background from which many of our team hail, there is a top down methodology to disseminating orders through a rank structure and getting tasks done. Whilst this is a proven approach to time saving and productivity, it can sometimes leave a disconnection between company managers and team members. Understanding the importance of making time for every member of your workforce is imperative.
  2. LISTENING – we are committed to allowing our team to talk and truly hearing them rather than listening simply to formulate a response. We like to discover what makes our people, as individuals tick, what their aspirations are within our organisation but also to support any plans or career goals outside of the business.
  3. MORALE – this is an essential and hugely underestimated part of increased productivity, happiness, and all-round wellbeing. In an industry where operatives must be ‘switched on’ and professional at all times, it is important to know when to smile, engage in camaraderie and be there for one another.
  4. RECOGNITION – No matter how small an achievement, we place great importance on commending team or individual wins and sharing positive client feedback.

Looking to the future

With rates of male suicide on the rise and an ever-present stigma around men feeling unable to talk about their problems, it appears that the ‘empathy gap’ is widening. The impact is vast; causing an array of issues from loneliness, to anxiety, depression and burnout and It is during times like these that adopting the old school military buddy system – a procedure that pairs people together, to operate as a single unit and to look out for one another – could be incredibly useful in the business world.

It is this approach that we can all adopt and build on, in order to promote positivity and help to make the men amongst us more comfortable with speaking out when challenges arise – both in business and beyond.



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