Why ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is damaging the workplace

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As an employer or manager, one of your key responsibilities is to ensure that your staff or team is happy and healthy. For a long time there has been stigma surrounding the importance of mental health equalling that of physical health; the ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ ethos of World War II is so ingrained in our DNA that even those struggling with stress and mental health concerns may try to hide or brush them off.

It’s only recently that this stigma has started to ease. Employers not only have a moral responsibility to protect the mental wellbeing of staff during their working years (what will be the majority of their adult life), but studies have long proven that workplace wellbeing and performance are complementary and dependent components of a financially and psychologically healthy workplace.

It makes complete sense that a happy and engaged employee is a productive and loyal one.

The issue of mental health is certainly beginning to be recognised as a key agenda point among global enterprises, but there’s a lot of work to be done as front-line staff within retail, supply chain, manufacturing and production are still largely being overlooked.

How to disintegrate the ‘Keep Calm’ culture

The first step to getting rid of this ‘Keep Calm’ ethos is to encourage a change of attitude, not only from above, but from employees also.

Business in the Community’s Mental Health at Work Report 2016 shows that only 11% of employees discuss their mental health with a line manager, yet a study by mental health charity Mind has found that one in three men blame work for poor mental health, meaning the vast majority of those struggling will be suffering in silence.

It’s clear from these figures that there’s still a long way to go to encouraging acknowledgement of mental health issues in the workplace. Many companies are unable to effectively support their staff simply because they have no insight into who needs it and what issues they have.

There’s often an unintentional ‘us and them’ pretension that will plague a company culture, leaving front-line teams feeling voiceless and disenfranchised.

Employers need to identify whether they’re doing enough (or anything) to encourage employees to be more open about mental health. Encouraging staff to open up will be no mean feat in the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ culture, but if the company is committed to communicating regular messages about mental wellbeing among its workforce, the culture will start to evolve.

Giving your front-line a voice

Conducting surveys and speaking with line managers is a good way to determine a starting point in providing the right support and to identify the extent of the challenge faced in improving the mental wellbeing of your staff.

From there, it’s important to think about up-skilling managers. According to Business in the Community’s Mental Health at Work Report 2016, only 22% of front-line managers having received training in stress awareness, which means there is a clear opportunity for improvement.

In addition to more targeted training, it is important to consider how to support these managers in a wider cultural transformation; one that will pave the way for a more open dialogue on mental health. Once employees do start feeling comfortable enough to speak up when they need support, it’s essential that there is an appropriate and effective outlet for them to do so.

It’s evident that a lack of transparency and communication outlets through organisations is an industry-wide failing. There’s often an unintentional ‘us and them’ pretension that will plague a company culture, leaving front-line teams feeling voiceless and disenfranchised.

Prove you can help

Enterprises have a responsibility to help provide that two-way dialogue as a means for staff to communicate their concerns or nothing can be done to improve conditions in the workplace. Mental health concerns will continue to be a sensitive topic for many years to come even once the attitude has changed around speaking up in the workplace.

Unless they feel safe in the knowledge that they can trust their employer, employees will continue to brave it through the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude.

The next challenge is to assure employees that if they do voice their concerns, something can be done about it. Without communicating the support that is available to them or the steps that will be taken to improve conditions, they may lack motivation to speak up at all.

It’s vital that employees have access to a seamless means of communicating with HR in order to make it as simple as possible. There are a myriad of technologies available to help facilitate this and it is crucial to choose something that addresses the professional and developmental needs of dispersed teams.

Develop a mutual trust

Unless they feel safe in the knowledge that they can trust their employer, employees will continue to brave it through the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude that is so damaging to a company’s workforce.

There are far too many enterprises that have no formalised nor effective communication platform or strategy to reach and empower their dispersed people. As advocates of innovation companies have to better assimilate front-line employees into the very fabric of the organisation.

Not only will this will help to build the trust that is essential to tackle mental health issues within the workplace, but it will also enable companies to build a company culture based on connection and collaboration, which is critical to any globally dispersed enterprise.

 

About Lee Lomax

LeeL

Seasoned CEO and entrepreneur, Lee is a disrupter and accelerator alumni, experienced across marketing, mobile, SaaS and marketplace spaces. Lee co-founded Beem in 2012 to enable F1000 companies to reach, mobilise and inspire an international workforce through a single integrated platform.

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30th Aug 2017 10:03

Largley agree with the points made here. Especially the need to up-skill managers to identify and be able to deal effectively with stressed employees.

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