A study of 90,000 UK adults related to people’s mental health symptoms throughout lockdown showed that 96% reported feeling worried about how Covid-19 is have an effect on their life. Fleet delivery drivers have had to deal with increased stress, too.
If the lockdown has changed anything, it might be people’s attitude and behavior. With increased pressure to get all the deliveries to people’s homes, van drivers have faced various challenges when the shops were closed. Here’s a guide on how to spot the signs of mental health issues based on the behaviour of fleet delivery drivers.
Stress, Anxiety, Worry and Depression have all increased as a result of the pandemic and the government measures to control it. Did the government do enough? Did they act too late? Time will tell and we just have to deal with that. But that is not what I am here to discuss.
I would like to highlight the issue that stress and other mental health issues have increased among your staff. But what are you going to do about it?
Drivers’ Mental Health Issues
Your staff who drive for part of their job, or it is their job are in a unique position. They are staff who drive company cars or your company vans. The term fleet delivery drivers can even include your commercial drivers, the drivers in HGVs and buses. They often work long hours alone. You put on them deadlines with the responsibility of being in charge of their vehicle and to handle it safely at all times. This itself can be difficult and a stressful working condition.
Van and Fleet Delivery Drivers and Covid-19
As a business owner, you have the legal obligation to manage them correctly. Your responsibility and the risk have been enhanced by Covid-19.
Covid-19 is still a risk, plus we have the new variant, many drivers are more exposed than the general population. As a result, their mental wellbeing can be impacted.
If a vehicle develops a fault or gets damaged then it is easy to see the problem. However, if you see a driver is under-performing then the reasons why may not be so clear. Let me just explain one of the worse things you can do.
Let’s say I was a fleet delivery driver, having a bad time, yet I was called into the office for what the company called “counselling”. When in there, I got what could be described as a telling off. Ordered to pick myself up and improve or I would be looking for a new job. I was asked why my progress had slipped. But as I was hesitant in to say anything because it was not a comfortable environment, I was not given the support that I felt I needed. Is this how you want your staff to feel?
Road Risks and the Behaviour of Delivery Fleet Drivers
As lockdown eases and we move into a new normal, vaccines given, business will be encouraged to ensure that they manage work related road risk effectively and keep people who drive for work safe.
How would you do that? If I came to work in a sling with a broken arm, or a cast with a broken leg, you will see it straight away, but if I turn up stress, worried or anxious there may be no visible signs.
As the government relaxes the rules, some types of social interaction will still be limited. Many of those who drive the company cars such as the sales team may still be working from home due to this limited relaxation of the restrictions. As firms still want to look to reduce their employees’ exposure to the virus, the work environment and human interaction that many thrive on each day will still be missing.
Did you know that in 2019, 19% of remote workers said the biggest struggle was loneliness? Covid-19 I am sure has made this so much worse.
Fleet Delivery Drivers, Isolation, and Loneliness
Commercial delivery fleet drivers are used to a degree of isolation, as many do travel alone. However, the social distancing, the stricter measures put in place amplifies these feelings.
Loneliness and long hours have a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of your fleet drivers. If these extra safety measures, long hours, loneliness, stress and fatigue is not managed, it can have a significant effect on their performance. Even just driving stressed can make a driver take more risks.
If you are not managing this well it will have an impact on your operation.
Managing Fleet Drivers’ Mental Health Can Save You Money
Let’s look at it from a cost angle. There is a whole range of costs that can come from bad driving performance. There is bent metal costs, bumps and scrapes, damaged and missing wing mirrors, increased insurance costs, fuel costs increase also with poor driving. This is just some. What about human costs? This will not show up as invoices or on your balance sheet, stress, fatigue, worry and anxiety can show up in poor customer service, harming your business reputation, unhappy and unmotivated staff, leading to sick days, staff just not turning in, some staff may be there, but not there.
You hear that saying. The lights are on, but nobody is at home! Then you have staff that just get to that final straw, I’ve had enough to of this’ and then just up and out, leave on the spot without giving notice. Your recruitment costs are now going to feel it.
Can you now see how social isolation and restrictions can lead to stress, anxiety and depression and this can lead to influenced driver behaviour and onto your distraction and potential crashes?
How Furlough Had an Impact on Driving for Work!
There are many who would of had to furlough staff. This will be many who have to drive for part of their job including sales staff etc. As we come out of the lockdown and they start coming back to work, having weeks off, which as we are on lockdown 3 at the moment, they naught be having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
Some staff as we saw after lockdown 1 staff spent a long time without driving at all, some of us have been off since before Christmas 2020 and then into lockdown for the whole of Jan and longer still, we just do not know yet. They may have experienced ’skill fade’ and it will take a little time to readjust.
Some coming back to work with different ways of doing things, their role may have changed, some valued colleagues / friends have left, some may have succumbed to the virus, life on the roads may just be different, increase in traffic levels, different road layouts, such as these Covid pop up cycle lanes, increased vulnerable road users such as the cyclist as people try and avoid public transport.
Other concerns increasing mental health issues are the concern over the state of the economy, which will cause anxiety about job security. Your staff may have family members who have been made redundant and now be the only earner.
Now to move a little away from the current situation of Covid, what affects a drivers well being?
As mentioned above Stress and Fatigue. Both are major contributors to driver mental well being, these can be cause by in work and out of work issues.
Stress, it does not matter where it comes from, it can and will be a problem at work.
What can be the sources? A poor work/life balance, domestic or personal problems, poor work organisation and uncertain roles and demands of the job?
How about fleet delivery drivers are unrealistic delivery schedules, to many drops, congestion, behaviour of other drivers, facilities at your own workplace, your customer work places and services, being told if the get somewhere early they must go away and come back at the correct time then being told that they need to wait an hour or so.
Stress can impair sleep quality, which will increase the likelihood of fatigue which will increase the feeling of stress.
As we now shop online more, there has been a huge increase in demand for home deliveries with many firms currently recruiting large numbers of drivers.
This additional demand could increase the chances of the drivers getting fatigued as they try and keep up with demand of a packed delivery schedule.
Do you know the impact of fatigue has on a person’s mental health and also physical health? Stress, irritability, reduced alertness, minimal vigilance and lower productivity, and then on top of that sleep deprivation from the anxiety that I have already discussed could very well make the problem worse.
Does this help you see that the impact of your staff’s well-being will have an effect on your business and drowsy fatigued fleet delivery drivers will result in far more accidents.
What can you do to prevent this and to prevent your vehicles being taken off the roads for costly repairs?
- Provide adequate protection against Covid and follow social distancing guidelines in the workplace.
- Make your staff feel valued. This is one of the biggest motivator, if they feel involved and valued. Make sure there is good communication in place to support staff and management. This can lead to great productivity.
- Do not put too much pressure on your workforce, make good suitable modifications and adjustments to workloads and routines.
- Consider the capacity of each employee, ensure that they are not overworking themselves due to the fear of income or job loss.
- Make sure your drivers take their breaks regularly and rest when tired.
Here are some questions an employer needs to ask themselves about their working practices:
Emotional – are support services available for drivers?
Physical – are there opportunities for exercise?
Community – do long hours make social activities difficult?
Friends and family – do long periods away from home increase isolation, depression?
Career – do work practices increase stress and anxiety?
Financial – do pay rates and pay structure increase fatigue?
Values – do company and individual values align?
How Much of an Issue Is Mental Health at Work among Fleet Delivery Drivers?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that mental health conditions, such as work-related stress, depression or anxiety, accounted for 15.8 million sick days in 2017. This number has gone up based on the recent research.
An organisation may not be aware of a problem regarding the mental health issues of their drivers, but it does not mean it is not there. May people just feel uncomfortable talking about mental health.
There is a stigma attached to discussing mental health at work. Few managers have had an employee speak to them about the issue.
Many staff will make up excuses such as stomach ache or back issues for being absent when they need to take time out for their mental health reasons.
Men specifically are reluctant to talking about mental health. As men are the providers, men are the fixers, men are meant to get things done and do not want to make others worry, whether it is to their partner, family or friends. Plus, they do not know how to talk about mental health or how they are feeling.
Shockingly, 40% of men in the UK under 45 have considered taking their own life, and under half of them don’t tell anyone. This means that 1 man taking his own life every 2 hours in the UK. 12 men a day. 84 a week. Blokes are three times more likely to take their own lives than women, as they don’t reach out for help.
If you are a man between 20 and 49, you are more likely to die from suicide than cancer, road accidents or heart disease, and suicide rates in men aged between 45 and 59 have also now begun to rise, increasing to their highest levels since 1981.
How Do you Spot the Mental Health Signs?
It is viral that any mental well-being problems are identified by the company, so an employee can get the help that they need to support them and manage their symptoms, and reduce the risk to themselves and to other road users.
Here are the signs to look out for:
- Is the driver behaving any different, around people or how they are carrying out their job?
- Are they working more?
- Are they working less?
A little change like this could be a sign that there is something wrong.
If you see a friend or colleague who you think may be suffering from mental health issues, ask them if there’s anything you can help with.
It may be that everything is alright, and that’s the answer you get, but unless you ask, you never know.
By asking that question, you can take the first step to helping them get that support they need.
Three quarters of people will say I’m fine. Even if they are struggling. So ask twice. They may open up. “Are you sure, you’re OK?”
What Companies Can Do for Supporting Fleet Delivery Drivers
Organisations should train managers or set up confidential employee helplines, so if an employee wants to talk they have ways of doing so. Building a positive culture is also crucial. Make sure that there are guidelines in place so that if another employee sees a change in someone’s behaviour they will mention it. It may be awkward to do so, but it can take them one step closer to identifying the problem and getting the fleet delivery drivers the right help.
There could also be a change in someone’s driving behaviour as a result of mental health issues. Using telematics could help you monitor changes.
What Can Fleet Managers Do?
The best way to manage the mental health and behaviour of fleet delivery drivers is to have a range of support available, such as occupational health or a way for assessments through the NHS.
Creating a working environment in which drivers feel confident is important. They need to know that they can report mental health issues without negative consequences. They need reassurance that their problems will be treated sympathetically and that appropriate occupational health advice will be available, otherwise they may simply avoid reporting problems.
Make it normal to talk about mental health for men and women. Make them feel comfortable talking about feelings and emotions.
Having mental health first aiders is a good way of supporting your employees.
There are also more formal, operational steps which can be taken to improve driver well-being:
- Ensure that working regimes and tasks do not exert undue pressure on staff that is likely to cause or magnify stress.
- Driving schedules should be planned so they do not require fleet delivery drivers to drive too far, too long or too fast, and without adequate rest breaks.
- Assess drivers to identify potential sources of stress. Stress can be caused by requiring an individual to undertake duties for which they do not feel competent. This may include driving particular vehicles or particular types of journeys.
- Train managers to recognise signs of health changes, including sudden mood or behaviour changes, unusual irritability or aggression, worsening relationships with colleagues and others, impaired job performance or an increase in poor timekeeping and short-term sickness absence.
- Train fleet managers in the ‘soft skills’ needed when dealing with health issues and the need to respect medical confidentiality.
Businesses could consider refresher training, skills guidance, and offer support to ensure that drivers remain confident enough to undertake their duties, especially if they are returning to a workplace which looks very different to before.
Confidence is a key aspect of having happy and healthy fleet delivery drivers, and can promote a better performing workforce.
Covid is forcing changes on us. Businesses are implementing new policies such as vehicle sanitisation and working from home, which may become permanent. When you expect people working from home to come to the office, this becomes a commute for work, not a commute to work. If they use their own vehicle, it is grey fleet, and the risks need to be assessed.
If you have staff now working from home or driving more it is important to make sure that your drivers feel they have someone to talk to if they are feeling isolated or alone.
Maintaining a healthy peer support culture helps people feel involved in their business, and enhances a sense of purpose. People who are engaged in their work are happier and more productive – leading to better workforce retention.
Fleet Driving Consequences of Covid
Returning to the ‘new normal’ is the standard for most companies beyond Covid.
Whatever the ‘new normal’ looks like, getting back to it will be a challenge.
Drivers will need additional support and guidance to maintain mental and physical health.
Employers should develop robust driving for work policies that put well-being and mental health at its centre.
Good mental and physical health improves productivity, creating better performance and improving the financial strength of the business for the journey ahead.
Employers need to recognise the signs of mental health issues and stress early before they become a serious issue among the workforce.
Co-workers are often able to spot signs of worry, stress, anxiety, or fatigue better than those in leadership positions, so it’s good practice to consider directing employees towards resources where that can help with wellbeing solutions.
For example, the Samaritans’ Well-being in the Workplace tool enables people to identify potential signs of concern amongst colleagues.
Have you got a policy to protect your fleet delivery drivers and other staff driving for work? Let’s talk about managing your most valuable assets: your employees.
Alternatively, feel free to download our Employee Handbook for Cars and Vans to implement positive changes in your business.