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We all know that feeling: the sense of gloom that builds inside as you join a long tailback on the motorway. It often comes at the worst possible time - you're in a rush to get somewhere or at the end of a lengthy journey. No matter your situation, the punishment feels just as harsh. All you can do now is surrender and hope it starts to move within 20 minutes.
Fortunately for most people this is something you only have to endure on the odd occasion. But for job-need fleet drivers, it can be an almost daily occurrence.
Whether you're a delivery driver, public sector worker or small business owner, life out on the road can be challenging and unpredictable. And it's not just traffic jams. Many fleet-operating businesses now face reduced teams due to covid or higher-than-normal vacancy rates, which means that drivers are doing longer, more frequent trips, often without adequate breaks.
The stresses and strains put on the driver, both mentally and physically, can be overlooked, as fleet managers and business owners focus on key performance indicators and profits. That's not to say that they don't care. Indeed, most companies value their employees' wellbeing and are supportive of their mental health. But is there too often the assumption that any issues will be flagged by management or the driver themselves?
Thankfully, there is a growing consensus within the fleet industry that things need to get better. In a recent Leaseplan UK survey of 500 fleet managers, one in five stated that they don't think their company puts enough emphasis on driver safely, wellbeing and health. As the government and private sector companies work together to create a better awareness of the support that's needed, I expect that this number will increase.
For business owners and fleet managers asking what more they can do to support their drivers' mental health, the first thing I'd say to them is to make sure your wellbeing policies centre around a more human approach. Fleet management as a business operation has been transformed by data. But when it comes to wellbeing management, your people are your best asset.
Many job-need drivers will spend much of their time alone. Therefore, it's important that they feel a sense of support and community from the wider team. In recent years employers have gotten much better at encouraging their employees to speak openly about mental health at work and spotting any red flags, but out on the road there's a risk that, despite a a business' best intentions, drivers will slip through the cracks. That's why open communication and regular check-ins are so vital. Every driver will have their own individual needs, so it's important that management is attuned to these nuances.
Fleet managers should make sure that their drivers know who they can speak to if they need a confidential ear outside of the work environment. This is important for any sensitive issues, or in the event of a crisis. At Leaseplan we've teamed up with wellbeing charity Mind to provide a large number of wellbeing resources which provide both general mental health and fleet-specific support.
Additionally, fleet managers should spend time optimising the driving experience for each of their drivers and making sure they're not being put under any undue stress. While you can't foresee every issue a driver will face while out on the job, you can ensure that they're operating within the best possible working conditions. Getting enough rest and sleep are crucial here, as are proper nutrition and hydration. It's down to management to make sure that the correct policies are in place and that they're being adhered to.
Likewise, it's the responsibility of the fleet manager to ensure that drivers are matched with the right vehicle. This involves careful consideration of driver profiles and the type of journeys they make, to ensure the vehicle they're in is both comfortable and efficient.
NHS leaders and doctors have warned of a 'second pandemic' in the form of a mental health crisis - and the fleet industry is not immune. But through regular face-to-face meetings, clear signposting to all available support services, and the proper policies in place, fleet managers can help to create a safe and secure environment for their drivers. This will then support a strategy of prevention, rather than intervention.
Chris Black is commercial director for Leaseplan UK