The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on employees’ mental health could pose a road safety risk without appropriate action from fleet managers, according to a new white paper from Drivermetrics.

‘Improving driver wellbeing: A guide for managers’, by the company’s research director Dr Lisa Dorn, sets out steps managers can take to alleviate the high risks posed by employees driving in states of anxiety or stress.

The paper cites research finding that stressed drivers were more than twice as likely to be involved in accidents or commit driving offences, and that drivers suffering from untreated anxiety could be afflicted by diminished cognitive abilities, an inability to concentrate and reduced reaction times.

These are pressing concerns currently, given that research has linked the Covid-19 pandemic with increased occurrences of anxiety and depression in the UK, partly due to remote working meaning an increase in social isolation and a reduction in support networks available in workplaces.

Research has also found evidence of pandemic-related stress leading to disrupted sleeping, which can in turn lead to fatigue behind the wheel, especially when driving on long shifts.

Dorn said: “A major issue with poor mental health is that impairments in driving performance can occur with slower reaction time, divided attention, slower reaction to changing speeds when following another vehicle, and poor lane positioning. These difficulties are likely to impact drivers’ risk of collision. 

“The good news is that there are practical measures that managers can take to improve wellbeing when driving for work, and in doing so, improve fleet driver safety.”

The white paper picks out a number of areas managers need to consider when trying to reduce these issues among remote workers. Among these is demands faced by employees, including workload, work patterns, and work environment, and another is the potential for employees to feel a lack of control, which managers can address by ensuring workers are consulted and included in decision making where possible.

The paper also states managers should provide regular communication to encourage and support drivers, and actively promote positive working to avoid conflict and unacceptable behaviour.

It states employee’s roles should be clear, and that any organisational change should be carefully explained, as this can be a significant source of stress.

A major theme is communication, and the paper encourages managers to be available for formal or informal communication, and suggests peer to peer sessions for drivers to communicate with colleagues on a regular basis.

It also suggests regular weekly briefings are held, to help build team spirit, and states managers should consider what resources can be made available to support drivers.

The paper also states that coaching focusing on improving wellbeing during the pandemic has been found to have positive effects on employee performance.

It adds that there are individual differences in coping strategies different people are able to deploy, with some able to deal with difficulties quite robustly and develop their own approach, while others may struggle to cope and need additional support.

It states positive coping strategies include seeking social support, physical exercise, and avoidance of threatening thoughts, as opposed to negative actions such as alcohol consumption and self-blame.

The white paper is available to download free from the Drivermetrics website.