The end of the year can be a joyful time and this year, after the lockdowns of the past two years, may be extra cause for celebration. But for many, that is not the case.

While loneliness or the pressures of the holiday season are common challenges, anyone who drives for work, including professional truck drivers, face stress, burnout and other mental health challenges, driven by increased traffic congestion and non-negotiable deadlines that must be met within a limited time period.

And, as Safety Risk expert Keith Govias is commonly hearing, the pandemic has had an even more severe effect on Transport and Logistics. For example, with sustained increases in online shopping increasing demands on drivers for deliveries. Those pressures flow through businesses, with schedulers and others working in administration scrambling to meet demand, and managers and owners trying to keep businesses operating in uncertain times.

Keith will deliver NRSPP’s December webinar, Coping as a business and supporting mental health during the holiday season, to examine the issues that impact worker mental health and business resilience across the Christmas and New Year periods.

He has also expanded on these issues in this Thought Leadership piece – End-of-year opportunity: Building mental health and the resilience of your people and business – providing practical and easy-to-implement strategies to help address those challenges in the short-term and help build more resilient people and businesses for the long-term.

“Drivers might feel anxiety leading up to having time off over the Christmas period, having to see family or dealing with a degree of absence and loneliness if you don’t have family or friends to share the Christmas-New Year period with,” Keith said, “or if you are embedded in a lifestyle of loneliness as a long-haul truck driver, that might be quite challenging for you.

“Our clients in Transport and Logistics are telling us that they never got the same break as other businesses did when they went into lockdown – in actual fact, they went into hyperdrive. That a number of their ancillary services, especially local direct freight, have increased significantly with a lot more users moving to online shopping and extra parcel movement that’s been going on. 

“And that a lot of the teams are especially burning out in the admin space – with the impacts of Covid and people being on leave or being isolated at home, they haven’t had the skill sets necessarily to cover.  

“It’s still a very competitive market and for those people who are in a management or senior executive role, the risks of maintaining a business, trying to grow or stabilise it, and trying to ensure that your people strategy is complementary is causing a degree of anxiety. 

“And I think that for all of them, while there was a beneficial focus on the conversation around mental health in the first year of Covid, that community conversation has dissipated but there’s an anxiety that they don’t understand what they can do to identify and manage psychological hazards in the workplace. 

“This concept of a psychological hazard in transport is far less tangible than ‘I can see that you are limping’, ‘I can see that you’ve hurt your back’, ‘I can see that your arm is in plaster’. Physical injuries are very visual, you can talk to someone and they’ll be able to tell you about the way they’re feeling.

“But when you talk to someone about their mental health, especially in Transport and Logistics, many of the drivers, many of the people are ‘yeah, I’ll be right’, ‘no it’s just what happens. I don’t want to talk to you about it at work’, ‘I’ve got my own way of dealing with it, which is I go on the boat’. So you end up with the coping mechanisms of the individuals involved, which is very isolating.

“If you’re not seeking to find trusted people to vent to, then it builds up and if you continue to find isolating or exclusionary activities – that might be as simple as sleeping or I’m just going to stay in my house and watch movies all day – and you’re not doing anything to maintain a degree of social engagement with the world around you, then the academic evidence does tell us that can help increase deterioration.

“The past two years were the anomaly and while this year is coming back to normal there are still supply chain disruptions that will impact us into 2023. However, we still have the opportunity to reflect on our job roles, our job design, our job processes. Asking ourselves, ‘Do we like the way we operate?’ ‘Do our people like the way we operate?’ ‘Are we asking our people what can we do to improve?’ Listening to their suggestions should be part of any good businesses approach. 

“You don’t have to hire an external consultant or bring in a new software system. It’s about looking at the systems you have as a performance review; because if you can target the 10 per cent of issues that cause you 80 per cent of your lost time, then suddenly everything becomes a lot easier.”

Register here for the NRSPP webinar, ‘Coping as a business and supporting mental health during the holiday season’, on December 8, or click here to read the Thought Leadership piece, ‘End-of-year opportunity: Building mental health and the resilience of your people and business.’

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