Trucking HR Canada recently conducted an informal “temperature check” survey of employers and employees about the topic of mental health in the workplace.
While the intent was to gather information over our social media channels for a federal consultation on the topic, what we heard from respondents was alarming.
Considering the pressure the pandemic has brought to bear, it was no surprise to hear that the number of workers concerned about their psychological health is rising. What’s astonishing is how pervasive COVID-19-related mental health issues are among the entire workforce, leaving a swath of stressed-out people – from the driver’s seat to the shop, to the office.
The survey results and the discussions we’ve had since have prompted us to take a close look at how stress, isolation, family matters, financial pressure, and other factors affect the mental health and safety of people in trucking and logistics.
COVID-19 looks like it’ll be with us for a while, and we want to help employers develop strategies to help their employees cope with life at work and home and feel better about themselves and their work.
Here’s what we’re learning.
There is a stigma around mental health
By far, survey respondents said COVID-19 is the main reason for observed decreases in their overall wellbeing and mental health in the workplace. Other factors cited (in order) are workplace stress; poor work-life balance; organizational restructuring; increased workload; and financial stress.
A large number of respondents acknowledged that employees are more aware of their general state of mental health and feel more comfortable discussing it at work. However, respondents also indicated that stigma surrounding mental health is something that many contend with, meaning that there may still be reluctance to report a mental health issue at work. One person said the stigma around mental health includes a fear of experiencing employment repercussions (e.g., losing their license).
This suggests that an effective intervention to reduce stigma in the trucking and logistics industry would also need to involve a dialogue among many different actors: employer organizations, employee organizations, health and safety bodies, insurance providers, and others.
Everyone is affected, but the more vulnerable are affected most.
In trying to determine which individuals within the workforce faced the greatest degree of COVID-19-related psychological distress, we found that occupational categories were the most frequently cited factor. Nevertheless, it was shown that certain issues can come into play to make individual circumstances particularly important to understanding the full picture.
For example, respondents who cited these factors tend to be affected the most:
- Those with pre-existing mental health concerns
- Those working from home with young children
- Those working in close quarters
It’s also important to consider the experiences of different demographic groups. Notably, the mental health of women in the industry was highlighted as a concern, particularly the manner in which female employees were treated by clients and—at times, by those they work with. Also highlighted as a concern was the mental health of younger men (under 30 years of age) within the industry.
For an industry looking to increase the participation of women and young people, these issues warrant further attention.
Help the helpers
Our survey results showed that employees in certain occupations have a higher risk or are more vulnerable to experiencing psychological injuries and illnesses.
Without a doubt, truck drivers demand special attention given their work conditions, with respondents citing familiar themes of isolation/solitude, unhealthy diets, and low physical activity. COVID-19-related factors included daily stress stemming from poor access to facilities such as washrooms, or access to good options for nutrition.
However, our survey highlighted other occupations of concern, notably (in order):
- HR staff
- Office administration staff
It’s significant that the reported rate of mental health effects on HR staff was the closest to the prevalence rate of drivers. COVID-19 has exacerbated negative outcomes for dispatchers, who have had to bear the brunt of changes in routes and driver availability.
The fact that we look to HR managers, dispatchers, administrators, and others to support our drivers is important to remember as you develop plans to address mental health. The need to recognize and manage mental health across all occupations has perhaps been underestimated in the past.
As we brace for a longer recovery period from the pandemic, employers may want to consider a temperature check of their own workforces’ mental health.
Post-pandemic profitability will depend on it.