Managing Mental Health Problems Within Fleets

Poor mental health in the workplace can contribute towards a high staff turnover, loss of productivity and lack of motivation. Spot the signs and take the steps to create a healthier workforce.


a man with a despaired look on his face leaning on a steering wheel

Drivers are often faced with long, sometimes unsociable hours stuck behind the wheel. Add to this, frequent long driving hours, working to tight delivery schedules and time spent away from the family all of which take their toll on the mental well-being of drivers.

Mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about. It is believed that at least 20% of adults are affected by mental illness every year, with stress being the predominant condition for drivers. This can be detrimental to businesses too, with absenteeism resulting from employee mental health conditions cost Australian businesses $4.7 billion per year, equivalent to 1.1 million sick days.

Distracted driving

Drivers with mental health problems are in effect distracted drivers. Not having a clear focus on driving can have an adverse effect on judgement, concentration and reactions which can increase the chances of having an accident.

We take a look at the major causes of mental health issues in drivers and the ways in which fleet managers can help prevent them.

What are the most common mental health issues faced by drivers?

The mental health issues most commonly reported by drivers are stress, depression, and anxiety. Around 23% of workers in the transport industry have a mental  health condition.

1. Stress

Stress is our body’s natural alarm system that kick-starts the instinctual ‘fight or flight’ response. Challenges such as meeting deadlines, getting stuck in traffic or knowing that a job is going to take much longer than anticipated, can all be trigger points for stress.

What’s more, multiple bouts of stress over long periods can lead to other mental health problems such as depression and anxiety or even physical problems such as heart attacks.

2. Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems. It is different to feeling sad or suffering from grief. Those struggling with depression are often unaware as to why they feel so low. These thoughts themselves can vary from feeling low through to having life-threatening thoughts. Depression in turn can lead to chronic pain and interfere with the ability to recover from illness or injury.

3. Anxiety and PTSD

Anxiety is a normal emotion. Problems arise, however, when a person begins to feel anxious all the time. inhibiting their ability to do things that they would normally do. Again, the symptoms can become physical with problems, including difficulty in breathing, an increased heart rate and blurry vision.

Being involved in, or a witness to, a serious driving accident can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks, feeling on edge or blocking out an event from memory entirely.

The effects of mental health on driving

There is no mistaking that anxiety, depression, PTSD and stress can all effect driving ability. Not only do such conditions increase the risk of causing an accident, but should a driver become involved in a driving accident then their insurance policy may be invalid and there could be a possibility for prosecution too.

Drivers taking prescribed drugs must check with their doctor about restrictions or precautions that they need to be aware of prior to going back behind the wheel. Drowsiness, angry or aggressive tendencies or reduced coordination can be symptoms of taking certain pharmaceutical drugs. Even over the counter remedies for common conditions such as coughs, colds and hay fever can cause drowsiness. If a label says that ‘it may cause drowsiness’, it is best to presume that it will and should be reported to the fleet manager.

How can managers spot the signs of mental health?

42% of staff have called in sick to work feigning a physical illness, when in fact they’re suffering from mental health issues. All is not lost – there are tell-tale signs that fleet managers can look for to help determine the well-being of employees who are behaving out of character. These include:

An increase in errors
Regularly missing deadlines
Often forgetting to do tasks
Working longer than usual hours
An increase in sickness absence

How can managers support the mental health well-being of employees?

First things first, make sure that the relevant policies and procedures concerning health and well-being are in place and have been circulated amongst staff. Work alongside the human resources and health and safety departments to include driving best practice, how to spot the symptoms of mental health, what to do if feeling unwell and the help that is available.

Fleet management software can play its part by ensuring delivery of relevant training manuals and documents, declaring that they have been distributed, read and signed to state that the information has been understood. Such systems can be the ideal storage solution for confidential employee information, helping companies to meet with the compliance requirements.

Ongoing training and development initiatives can deliver:

Continuous awareness through internal communications and training plans
Driver risk assessments
Accessibility to health and well-being checks
Use of telematics to monitor driving behaviour
Incorporation of managing stress sessions into training
Regular driver licence checks

Introducing informative ‘mental health’ days can be a great place to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace. The annual World Mental Health Day on 10 October is a great time to start such an initiative. Distributing self-help information and promoting professional mental health services in addition to introducing mental health telephone care lines and confidential counselling through company well-being schemes can all be a great help too.