Mental health in the commercial vehicle sector
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness, which is a particular issue for drivers who spend long periods of time alone on our roads.
Last year, mental health charity Mind revealed 30 per cent of work-related illness in the transport and logistics sector is due to stress, depression, and anxiety. One in four HGV drivers will experience mental health issues at some point throughout the year.
Yet talking about mental health can be a struggle for many people, especially men, who make up 80 per cent of our industry’s workforce. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, 95 per cent of workers calling in sick due to stress give a different reason to their manager. Mind also reports that 22 per cent of workers have been diagnosed with a mental health problem, but less than half have told their manager.
Recognising the lack of conversation around mental health in the industry, we’ve launched a number of initiatives to promote the topic across the organisation and to help staff understand what signs to look out for amongst colleagues and industry peers.
What are we doing at RHA?
We’re running more than 10 initiatives to improve staff’s mental health and wellbeing, with more work being done to expand on this to ensure there is ample support available.
Ten per cent of our staff are trained Mental Health First Aid Champions. They have been trained to recognise the signs of poor mental health as well as offer support and advice to colleagues.
Talking about the initiative, HR Business Partner, Clare Murphy, said: “Everyone in the organisation knows who the champions are, and they are always available to act as a listening ear and offer support.
“We recognise that we can’t make people speak about their issues but can ensure we have people there and available.”
We have also started working with Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support to provide staff with practical tips and strategies for staying well. We run an Employee Assistance Programme where our colleagues and their families can seek support for issues such as financial and relationship problems, or any type of mental health concerns. Our people can also request counselling support through the service.
The pandemic has been a difficult period for everyone, and we recognised a need to support our people more than ever. We made improved work structure and introduced measures to ensure we stayed connected and continued a sense of togetherness at a time that was isolating for everyone.
Clare adds: “Since Covid-19, we’re closer as an organisation. All levels of interaction are better.
“At our fortnightly executive briefings, we talk openly about our struggles and with us representing a male-dominated industry, we’re constantly encouraging conversations about mental health.
“We’ve seen a high level of engagement at the Teams weekly catchups and staff getting together more; that’s because as an organisation we have really cared and supported each other.
“We continue to look for new ways we can combat work-related mental health struggles. We’ll soon be launching the CSR Committee; an internal team who connect staff with volunteering projects, and June will see the return of our Staff Recognition Day. This is a day where we spotlight the achievements of staff, departments, and wider industry, and bring all of our people together.
“Most importantly though, as an organisation, we talk.”
What about the industry?
As for the wider industry we need to lead a culture change.
Clare says: “Regular dialogue and conversation in our industry is essential and everyone would benefit from implementing it.
“It’s about really getting to know your people and having an open-door policy. The more we talk about mental health and promote conversations around it, the more it will help destigmatise it, which can only be a good thing for our industry.”
We also need to look at some of the challenges our people face on the road such as poor roadside facilities.
This is why we’ve launched our RHA Facilities Campaign to press for more safe and secure parking, and a better standard of facilities when drivers get to them.
The campaign aims to highlight the importance of driver welfare and wellbeing in supporting our industry’s workers to carry out their crucial role of keeping our supply chains moving.
A recent YouGov report found that as many as 20 per cent of UK Adults may be drinking more after the national lockdowns. The results demonstrate concerns about the impact of the pandemic on rising addiction problems and associated mental ill health. It’s an issue that needs careful consideration by all employers within the UK’s commercial vehicle sector. Setting up a testing programme and providing ample training for staff are effective measures in supporting a workforce and ensuring your business is compliant with the law.
Good physical health equals good mental health too. Where they can, operators and services should be promoting healthy habits for drivers. Diet, exercise and rest improve our moods, so making resources such as greenspace, heathier food options and more secure parking will help significantly. Sign our petition for better driver facilities here.
Spotting the signs of mental health problems is not always easy and we need to be mindful that people often hide these problems beneath the surface. With the right support and promoting a safe and open environment, however, mental health issues can be managed and even prevented.
There are a number of mental health organisations which can support drivers with their mental health. CALM Drivers has been created to provide fleets of van drivers with some direction when life gets tough. Whether it’s battling loneliness, stresses of the job or providing a bit of help to a fellow driver you might be worried about, CALM have years of experience helping men with their mental health and it’s free to use. The Mind and Samaritans websites also offer comprehensive support.