from the industry
(IN THE WORKPLACE)
Talking about mental health issues and the effects they can have on colleagues
Over the last few years, mental health has progressed from being an issue about which people often felt embarrassed about – and even refused to acknowledge – to one that is generally treated with a much higher degree of sympathy and support.
Within fleets today, there is certainly increased understanding when it comes to the pressures under which drivers are placed and the need to protect their wellbeing, as well as the demands made on fleet managers facing up to their own intensive challenges at work.
As with many other subjects, the pandemic seems to have served as a moment of clarity here. This happened on two levels – firstly, frontline and delivery fleets found themselves massively stretched and this had a marked effect on some individuals involved. Secondly and conversely, a lot of people suddenly made to sit at home began to realise the ongoing effect that driving long distances had been having on them.
Members of the AFP have, for some time, been discussing how they are handling the needs of both of these groups and the proactive steps required to look after their wellbeing as a key element of fleet risk management. Increasingly, there’s a realisation that the mental health of workers should now be on a par with other health and safety considerations for businesses, particularly while we are not yet out of the Covid woods.
“Additional financial stresses, loss of confidence, changes in the workplace and the potential lack of social interaction could all have had a detrimental impact on driver wellbeing”
Here are some of the issues that are being reported – and the solutions being employed.
Have furloughed drivers lost confidence?
There are concerns – and reports from across the AFP – that some employees who have returned to work after lengthy periods have become deconditioned to daily driving in different ways. Sometimes, even something as simple as the reintroduction of early morning shifts has been an issue. Managers need to be aware of this possibility and make plans for driver skill fade or reduced confidence, perhaps even anxiety behind the wheel. Some employees may need training to refresh their skills or ways of helping them to improve their confidence might need to be identified.
Ensure drivers remain engaged
The growth of remote working means engagement is proving to be a potential issue as fewer drivers come into contact with their fleet or line managers – both of whom have responsibilities for the safety of employees while on the road. This lack of visibility can have negative effects on drivers and the road safety culture within an organisation. As a result, steps in mitigation should be taken.
Especially, be aware that potential feelings of isolation for drivers may have emerged. Commercial vehicle drivers especially are often accustomed to this as many travel alone, but enforced social distancing and lack of social contact may have amplified any feelings of loneliness.
Monitor drivers for unsafe behaviours
The pandemic and, particularly, the lockdowns, have brought many kinds of pressures to bear on individuals. Additional financial stresses, loss of confidence, changes in the workplace and the potential lack of social interaction could all have had a detrimental impact on driver wellbeing. Drugs, alcohol and other unsafe behaviours can thrive in these conditions and managers need to be watchful for signs that employees are being negatively affected.
Be aware that Covid measures could persist well into future
It’s becoming clear that potential new strains of Covid could well be an issue for some time and it is far from unlikely that measures will continue to be employed to contain its spread. For example, businesses may still ask employees to work from home to limit the risk of transmitting the virus, or because with Covid-secure measures in place, offices and workplaces will have a reduced capacity. This probability needs to be integrated into your approach to driver wellbeing.
One of the more insidious effects of the pandemic has been the phenomenon of Long Covid, where people recovering from the virus have suffered long-term problems including serious fatigue, cognitive impairment and many other symptoms. If any drivers are in this position, they need to be properly managed and not feel under pressure to work long hours when they are simply not capable of doing so safely. Recovery can take many months.
Even where we are seeing a return to something resembling normality, there will likely still be controls and some levels of limitations in place for a period of time. It is also quite possible there will be a reluctance or feeling of anxiety around a return to ‘normal’ social interaction and contact by many employees. Patience is required in all areas, to ensure that the workforce is made to feel as comfortable as possible.
BIO / Paul Hollick is chair of the Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP). The AFP embodies the combined strengths of two of the industry’s most prolific organisations, ACFO and the ICFM.
Top tips for maintaining driver physical and mental welfare...
Drivers should be made to feel that they work for a supportive business that is mindful of their wellbeing”
Chris Woods, Trakm8
Businesses must ensure that sufficient mental health training is available and refreshers are offered on a regular basis”
Spencer Halil, Alphabet (GB)
Isolation can be lessened with regular contact from a manager or being part of a group chat. Keeping workers up to date is key”
Rebecca Ashton, IAM RoadSmart
We’ve coined a new term – Road Health – to reflect how a combination of social distancing and the ever-increasing profile of mental health awareness really could benefit business drivers”
Andy Wheeler, Licence Bureau
“AI-powered dashcams capture video footage in real-time and can tell managers when driver behaviour has changed, flagging a possible need for action”
Damian Penney, Lytx