Mental Health for Drivers at Work
Do you remember that moment when you first passed your driving test? Those immediate feelings of relief and excitement, transitioning to a sense of freedom and enjoyment in the proceeding months as driving enabled you to explore the world in a whole new manner.
Fast forwards a few (perhaps many!) years and what comes to mind when you think about driving? Commuting to work, the school run, ferrying family members around at the weekend and journeying across town to the shops? Driving conditions seem to worsen, traffic is omnipresent, road surfaces are deteriorating, we feel guilty for not driving an electric vehicle, and so the list goes on. While a lucky few may still find time spent in their vehicle pleasurable, for many of us it is a little more than a chore.
In recognising that driving is not necessarily always a pleasant activity, we at CLM have spent some time considering how this impacts those who drive for a living, or are required to drive large distances as part of their role. It is particularly appropriate to do so now as October 10th is World Mental Health Day and this group of drivers are exposed to significant factors which can have a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.
What are the risks?
Amongst the many things which can impact a person’s mental health, there are particular factors of the job which may affect those whose working life is spent driving.
- Telematics devices – when used correctly can provide invaluable insight into the general patterns of driving across the workforce. When used incorrectly by management, or not fully understood by drivers, they can create an Orwellian sense of constant monitoring which in turn fosters a range of negative emotions.
- Pressure to always be “on”– the advent of technology such as Bluetooth connectivity is often seen as a benefit by drivers. However with this additional connectivity comes added pressure to be available to dial in to a meeting or to report back. As well as reducing “down time” for drivers, this creates a significant mental burden, requiring drivers to split their attention from the road, creating not only dangerous but also stressful situations.
- Difficult working hours / night shifts – this particularly affects LGV type drivers who typically have to cover great distances. Whilst there are strict controls in place around the amount of time a driver can work, there is often little in the way of a mechanism to track how a driver may be coping at any given time. A driver’s own mental health, including areas such as mental fatigue, loneliness, depression and boredom not only impact their ability to drive long journeys but are undoubtedly a product of them too.
- Tight deadlines – drivers with increasingly tight deadlines will likely feel the need to cut corners and skirt driving laws. The chronic pressure to deliver on time, aligned with the negative feelings around what is required in order to do so creates a damaging mind-set for the driver.
- Road rage – a recent survey by BigChange found that 20% of UK drivers experience road rage at least once a week, while 6% get it every day. The implied likelihood of someone who drives for a living suffering an episode of road rage is huge. With road rage comes a wide range of negative emotions ranging from anger and stress to guilt and remorse – not the emotions any of us like to endure on a typical day at work.
What’s the impact of mental health issues?
Aside from the duty of care towards all employees, employers should consider the wider societal implications that the mental wellness of their drivers may have. Road Safety Charity BRAKE report that at least a third of road deaths and a quarter of serious injuries are from crashes involving someone driving for work. Whilst there are inevitably unavoidable accidents and pure driver choices within these numbers, it would be folly to believe that the pressures detailed above do not also contribute both directly and indirectly.
How can employers deal with drivers’ mental health factors?
A great starting point is for businesses, particularly those involved in the running of the fleet, as well as HR, to analyse the mental health risks their drivers may be exposed to. The next step is to put in place the appropriate systems and processes to mitigate these risks. This may include mental health days, providing mental health care benefits – such as free and confidential counselling to employees – or the provision of phone based apps designed to help with mental health (not to be used while driving!).
From a systems perspective there is a lot more that most fleets can do to support their drivers. It is worth considering the typical system which is in place for most fleets around incident reporting – the focus is typically on accidents, damage to the vehicle and physical injuries to those involved. Very few companies that we talk to have a systematic process to either monitor or review the impact following an incident on the mental wellbeing of the driver.
When it comes to the workplace culture, a focus should be placed on creating an open and accepting environment where employees feel they can talk about their mental health issues without judgement or fear of job security. Creating such a culture can be challenging, particularly given the historical male dominance of many driving roles and the ego such an environment can create. Recent research by MIND confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers:
- More than one in five (21 per cent) employees agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them
- 14 per cent agreed that they had resigned and 42 per cent had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them
- 30 per cent of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
In the coming weeks, as the nights draw in and weather worsens, you may find yourself lamenting the commute that bit more than normal. If you find this happening, it’s worth sparing an extra thought at this time of year for those who have spent the entire day out on the road and may have many miles still to complete.