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truck driver mental health

Promoting healthy habits among your fleet is about more than physical health. More and more trucking companies are prioritizing mental health and considering its impact on overall employee well-being. Especially with increased tension due to COVID 19, creating strong connections and policies that support the mental health of truck drivers is critical. Here are a few ways to incorporate healthy structured and unstructured practices in your company.

1. Allow Person and Pet Ride-along Programs

Long hours of solitude on the road can take a toll on drivers. Even for drivers who love the open road, solo driving can make it hard to build and maintain close relationships.

Recruiter Bryce Kjellander at Stevens Trucking shared this about why they offer a pet and rider policy:

“Our pet and rider policies have definitely assisted with driver retention.  In the recruiting office, we hear how certain drivers wouldn’t even entertain driving for a company who didn’t offer both. A majority of our drivers love having the option to have a loved one or pet in the truck with them. In stressful times, both help improve a driver’s mental health, and we are pleased to offer both.”

Offering a partner or pet ride-along program is a great way to support driver mental health. Having a co-pilot can help prevent loneliness, alleviate driver stress, and boost spirits on the road. 

2. Support Regular Food and Exercise Routines

Trucking has been called one of America’s most unhealthy professions. Unfortunately, it’s for good reasons. In a study from the CDC conducted with more than 1,600 long haul truck drivers, 88% of drivers reported having at least one risk factor for chronic disease. Poor physical health can also take a toll on mental health. 

healthy truckerTo support strong mental health in your fleet, support good dietary and exercise habits. Regular, moderately intense exercise can reduce stress and anxiety while also improving sleep. Similarly, a healthy, well-balanced diet and proper hydration are great ways to improve overall driver health. As a company, consider how you can support healthy habits in your fleet. Health coaching, dietary resources, and regular health screenings are all ways to create a culture of physical and mental health in your fleet.

3. Encourage Good Sleep Habits

Whether your fleet is OTR, regional, or local, sleep is a critical part of road safety. Whenever possible, keep driver schedules as consistent as possible. In addition, fleets should consider offering sleep apnea testing as part of health care benefits. According to an FMCSA study, an astounding 28% of commercial drivers suffer from sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can make it difficult for drivers to focus and react quickly on the road.

To put the impact of sleep in perspective, Smart Trucking notes that the impact of driving with less than 8 hours of sleep each night is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content level of 0.10. 

For OTR drivers, good sleep can be particularly hard to come by. Help your drivers improve their sleep by encouraging them to use blackout curtains in the truck and bring some of the comforts of home in the cab. Some photos or small decorations can go a long way to keeping drivers in a positive mindset.

4. Promote Strong Relationships

Having strong, healthy relationships is closely linked with positive mental health. That extends far beyond the walls of the home. Build a company culture of connection, especially during this time when health concerns are keeping many people apart. Internally, encourage meaningful relationships in structured ways, such as mentor programs. Encourage drivers to be particularly proactive in taking time to connect with loved ones while on the road. Employers can help facilitate strong home relationships by clearly communicating home time to drivers.

Technology can also help play a role in strong relationship building. As a company, take advantage of software that optimizes drivers’ time on the road. Work with your sights set on improving quality of life rather than exclusively raising your bottom line. Drivers will reward you with loyalty and retention.

5. Have Available Resources

One of the best ways to support the mental health of your truck drivers is to be prepared with resources before they are urgently needed. Make sure that counseling and other mental health supports are included in the health insurance plan you offer. Similarly, share information such as national hotlines as part of your driver orientation. Doing so sets a tone that mental health is a priority and helps destigmatize conversations when drivers need them most.

Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

If you start noticing strong behavioral changes in your drivers, it may be a sign of deeper problems. Watch for these common red flags among your drivers:

  1. Quick and strong emotional reactions
  2. Extra tired
  3. Trouble focusing  
  4. Inability to handle daily problems and stress 
  5. Withdrawal from social circles personally and professionally

Especially in times of uncertainty, it’s important to connect with drivers proactively. Even if drivers are initially uncertain or skeptical about taking mental health seriously, provide them with support resources, and encourage drivers to peruse at their own pace. 

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driver care

Let’s call a spade a spade. 2020 has been a year full of surprises and challenges. As an employer in the trucking industry, you may have a front-row seat to the hardships of Coronavirus. As you’re navigating these uncharted waters, be proactive in reaching out to your entire staff. This is not business as usual, and silence will be noticed. Take this opportunity to firmly demonstrate that your company cares about drivers. Focus on driver care, and you will build positive, lasting relationships for years to come. Here are just a few ways to show employees that you value them as people as well as for their work. 

1. Clear Communication

Be transparent and proactive with driver communication. It is one of the best ways to demonstrate driver care during COVID-19. Good communication is increasingly important because face-to-face interactions are scarce and can be hard to facilitate.

As you navigate the many transitions of this year, integrate driver check-ins as a regular priority. Ask drivers what form of communication works best for them.

While you may prefer emails, your drivers may feel more connected through phone calls, video calls, or texts. Show them you care by reaching out in the way they prefer, even if it’s not your most natural communication channel. 

2. Truck Sanitation

mask

As essential workers, truck drivers are keeping our country moving. As a fleet manager, you know that keeping drivers safe and healthy needs to be top of mind. Even as other industries slowly reopen and stay at home orders are lifted, the danger is not gone. Make a plan for sanitizing fleet equipment. 

If you haven’t already, consider sending drivers out with the resources they need for their day to day work. Masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning wipes go a long way toward making drivers more comfortable. Regardless of what you decide, clearly communicate with drivers what you are doing and your expectations for them. If you ask drivers to bring their own supplies, consider reimbursing their purchases. 

3. Mental Health

A life on the road has its fair share of loneliness for anyone, but COVID-19 adds unique stress. Often, drivers are working increased hours or are completing more runs. The pressure for on-time deliveries is high. In addition, many drivers are deeply concerned with the well-being of their loved ones.

The same home time that is often a relief may be equally or more stressful than being on the road.

As a result, even when they come home after a few days or weeks on the road, family time may be very different. Some drivers intentionally quarantine themselves when home to reduce the risk of spread. As you check-in with drivers, provide them with resources to help connect with spouses, children, and friends. 

4. Company Culture

Perhaps ironically, challenging times often provide the clearest moments for demonstrating strong company culture. Focusing on driver care helps build relationships throughout your organization. It’s also an effort that will leave a lasting impression on your drivers. Treat them well, and you will reap the benefits for years. 

Drive My Way feature of Driver Dee from Prime Inc.

There are both public and private ways to prioritize driver care. In the public eye, use this opportunity to visibly thank and showcase drivers. If you maintain social media accounts or share a regular newsletter, use your platform to elevate drivers. Trucking is often a thankless job. Even though many Americans are now publicly thanking drivers, company recognition goes a long way. Consider launching a driver showcase series where you spotlight one stand-out driver each week. Then, you’re boosting morale and offering other drivers a model of what a top employee looks like. 

Private appreciation of drivers can take many forms. In addition to your regular driver check-ins, consider writing short, personalized notes. Alternately, pack lunch bags or coolers for drivers. It’s no secret that a healthy life on the road is harder than ever right now.

Sending drivers with a cooler shows that you care and you understand their challenges. If you’re not sure where to start, ask for feedback. Most drivers are all too happy to share their suggestions for improvement. Are drivers happy with how communication and health concerns are handled? Thoughtfully consider the suggestions that are offered. Then, choose a few to implement as soon as possible. Being responsive to driver questions and concerns is a form of driver appreciation.

The Long and the Short Of It

As we move into the second half of 2020, experts forecast that companies should prepare for the continued effects of  COVID-19. Now, you have time on your side. A focus on driver care necessitates both short and long term planning. In addition to your ongoing efforts to support drivers now, start developing a relief plan for the future. Consider, what would you have done differently this spring if you had been given 4 months warning? Take advantage of your experience this spring and develop a plan to sustain your company and support drivers in the event of a second wave.

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