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October 12, 2021

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Mental Health

Haulage industry urged to take action after 1 in 2 companies report a rise in mental health problems amongst drivers

With a recent survey revealing that half of logistics companies have seen a rise in mental health issues since Brexit, haulage industry leaders and mental health experts provide tips for supporting the mental wellbeing of drivers.

truckHaulage is one of the most essential sectors in the UK. This became especially clear in 2020 when multiple national lockdowns forced bricks-and-mortar shops to close, increasing retail’s reliance on haulage and logistics.

A YouGov survey found that delivery drivers were amongst the occupations whose workloads rose the most during the March 2020 lockdown. As a result, almost half of drivers reported feeling more stressed, while two in five said they felt anxious.

A separate study by Haulage Exchange, highlighted that 50% of logistics companies surveyed have seen an increase in employee stress, anxiety and other mental health issues due to the indirect impacts of Brexit.

Research from mental health charity Mind showed that 30% of self-reported work-related illness in the transport and logistics industry is due to stress, depression and anxiety. Other causes of strain on drivers’ mental health include shift working patterns, social isolation and the upcoming risk of seasonal affective disorder during cold, dark mornings and evenings. For female drivers, being in a male-dominated industry can also cause problems.

The government has introduced measures to ease the pressure on existing drivers, making more HGV driving tests available to get more drivers on the road. Pay has also increased dramatically, with UK wages for LGV drivers rising by 21% to £36,800 in just under a year, according to recruiter Adzuna.

However, it’s vital that drivers already working also receive the required mental health support from employers, colleagues and the wider industry, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

This, along with factors like Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, has undoubtedly lead to a serious shortage in the number of lorry drivers currently working in the UK.

A separate Road Haulage Association (RHA) survey of its members, has found that there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK. That number includes thousands of drivers from European Union (EU) member states who were previously living and working in the UK.

In July, the government attempted to address the issue by temporarily extending drivers’ working hours, but were met with sufficient backlash, many industry professionals claiming that the government is merely “sticking a plaster” over the issue of driver shortages.

The National Officer for Road Transport at Unite the Union, Adrian Jones, claimed the announcement would have no effect on resolving the driver shortage problem. He added, “Unite will be advising its members to not place themselves in danger and that if they are too tired to drive safely, they have a legal right to refuse to do so”.

Can technology reduce worker stress in haulage?

Research from Willis Towers Watson has 32% of UK workers cite business technology as a key contributor to workplace stress. Unreliable digital systems was the biggest cause of tech-related stress in the workplace, with 46% of respondents naming this their top concern. This was closely followed by technology increasing workloads due to it being outdated, which affected 45% of respondents.

Unreliable technology and increased demands have created a perfect storm of stress for the haulage sector. As the economy begins to return to normal, we should see workloads even out. Businesses can still support their workers’ well-being by not only improving the tech they rely on day to day, but also using technology to actively reduce stress. Here, we detail four ways businesses in the haulage sector can achieve this.

Many businesses, particularly those in the haulage sector, are using bespoke systems that are no longer fit for purpose. This means employees are wasting time on tasks including manual and duplicate data entry and working to outdated information.

Modern transport management systems are designed to automate time-consuming tasks that have been affecting the sector for years. Intelligent job planning solutions, like map-based planning, allow your staff to visualise the most efficient routes alongside vehicle and driver capacity. Electronic proof of delivery gives your employees the ability to generate single or batch invoices straight from your system, saving hours of time a day. These features mean a TMS will give your employees precious time back. Cloud versions also update automatically, meaning the TMS will always have the latest real-time information with secure data storage.

Having all your workers use one central system ensures everyone is working to the same information. It’s highly frustrating for workers to actively source up-to-date information if the system they’re working in doesn’t update automatically, so that’s one less thing for them to worry about.

What can haulage companies do to support the mental health of their drivers?

It’s not always easy to identify the signs of mental health issues, but haulage companies must be mindful that people often hide these problems beneath the surface. With the right support, however, mental health issues can be managed and even prevented.

Luke Davies, Head of Sales at Transport Exchange Group, said: “If the right help isn’t available for drivers, some elements of the job can become stressful. So it’s vital that drivers feel like they can open up about any issues, rather than keeping things bottled up.

“Companies can set up a confidential hotline, introduce mental health days or provide free counselling. They can also address the link between good physical health and positive mental health, by promoting exercise and healthy diets.

“With the national shortage of drivers we’ve currently got, it’s more important than ever to retain drivers. Safeguarding their mental health is one way to make them feel valued and improve their working environment.”

For insight into how haulage drivers can maintain positive mental wellbeing, return loads platform Haulage Exchange has spoken to Claire Lyons, Qualified Mental Health Professional and Hansa Pankhania, counsellor and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Top tips for maintaining positive mental health as a haulage driver

Find ways to stay active

Making time to exercise can often be a struggle, particularly with long hours spent on the road. For haulage drivers, who spend their working hours sitting down in a small space, keeping active is absolutely vital.

Lyons says: “Stress releases chemicals into your body, and one effective way to get rid of them is via exercise. You could try progressive muscle relaxation when in the cab, but not while driving. Or, add a physical activity (such as boxing, football or walking) to your weekly schedule.”

Pankhania says: “Find places to park where you can go for a brisk walk or run, or engage in stretching exercises. Also, connecting with nature is invigorating and healing, so even better if you can plan your breaks in scenic places.”

Laugh!

Life on the road can get a bit lonely at times, especially if drivers are spending nights away from home, so they should set time aside for whatever brightens their day up.

Lyons says: “One brilliant stress release is to laugh. Add a few downloads of your favourite comedian, get an audiobook, meet up with that friend who always makes you laugh. Watch a comedy show, add a joke book to the cab…”

Get enough sleep

There’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep. Wake up before your body has fully recharged and minor, everyday annoyances can turn into bigger issues. Of course, driving jobs require great focus, so they are much more enjoyable – and safer – when you’re not tired.

Lyons says: “One of the quickest ways to identify stress is a change in sleep patterns. This is also likely if you are working longer hours. Getting high-quality sleep, so that you are rested and alert, is essential for you to remain safe while driving. What works for one person may not work for another, so investigate ideas or sleep aids.”

Keep your lorry space clean

Just as some office employees feel more organised and ready to work when their desks are tidy, many drivers feel better when their working space is clean and pleasant. After all, drivers spend a lot of time in their cabs, so they don’t want to be surrounded by lots of mess.

Pankhania says: “Keep your vehicle clutter-free and fresh. You can also create a calm environment by adding images that you find soothing such as trees, oceans or wildlife.”

Share your feelings

Letting things build up and get you down never helped anyone. Talking about what’s on our minds allows us to process issues and move on. With drivers spending hours alone each day, it’s especially important that they communicate and don’t let any negative thoughts fester.

Pankhania says: “Open up about any issues that are bothering you instead of struggling to make sense of these yourself. Talking is cathartic and will highlight options for moving forward with your problems.”

Lyons says: “When we share thoughts and feelings, concerns or frustrations, with others the stress goes down. Getting things off your chest, even if it doesn’t change them, will help. If you feel you need more specific or professional help, don’t be afraid to reach out.”

Take advantage of mobile solutions

Drivers who are on the road need to be able to easily see their allocated jobs for the road. Without a solution in place, many businesses rely on unmanageable processes like WhatsApp or text messages, spreadsheets, or even paper documents. Not only is this an inefficient way to manage work, but it’s also easy to lose track and is not a secure way of storing your data.

Using a dedicated mobile app takes the stress out of job management for your drivers. Not only can they easily see and manage their deliveries, but you’ll be able to track job status in real time and be able to adapt quickly to any issues that arise. This not only takes the stress out of their role, but it has the opportunity to improve their work-life balance. With two-thirds of employees in the UK considering work-life balance more important than salary, this is a key way you can improve employee wellbeing and satisfaction.

Use engagement tools

Haulage businesses have disparate workforces, with warehouse staff separate from office-based staff most of the time and drivers spending most of their working days alone on the road. This can lead to dissatisfaction and feelings of isolation, so it’s important to make your employees feel connected to your business and their fellow workers.

There are many ways you can use technology to help your employees feel connected and engaged. An intranet platform that is kept up to date with company news – whether that’s business wins or personal news like birthday announcements – is one key way you can keep your staff in the loop.

If your business was one of the many that made the switch to remote collaboration tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams last year, you can also encourage staff to keep in touch with each other via messaging or video calls.

To access the full Haulage Exchange survey, click here.


Safety & Health Podcast

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

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