Features & Interviews

Mind matters: How employers can help with mental health

01 June 2022 #Features & Interviews

It is not always easy to identify the signs of mental health issues, but companies operating in road transport need to be aware that people can sometimes hide these problems beneath the surface.

During Covid-19 lockdowns, delivery drivers were among the workers whose workloads rose the most, with extra shifts and social isolation adding to an already demanding job.

However, with the right support, mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety can be managed and even prevented.

Since the beginning of 2021, DAF Trucks dealership group Motus Commercials has invested £35,000 in both the training and counselling of employees, including the appointment of ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ across 30 of its sites.

The commitment has included 70 managers completing a mental health awareness programme, four managers taking part in a 12-week counselling course and three passing a cognitive behavioural therapy course.

Their role is to destigmatise mental health and encourage colleagues to open up – providing a point of contact for anyone with concerns around their mental health.

First Aiders support colleagues through meaningful conversations and by directing them to professional help if required.

Emma Murdock, Head of HR at Motus Commercials, said: “The rigours of our industry are no secret, and we have always put staff health and safety at the forefront of our agenda.

“We are now expanding this to include a commitment to the mental health of our teams.”

This activity has been complemented with events encouraging employees to take a step away from their work for a ‘cuppa and a chat’ with a fellow colleague. Team members are also encouraged to get outdoors and take gentle exercise, to understand their own self-esteem and improve it where needed, and to raise awareness around anxiety and learn to tackle anxious thoughts.

“We believe in a workplace where everyone can be themselves, and thrive too”, Murdock said

“For us though, it is not about being one of the first in our sector to introduce these measures, but about driving change within the transport industry as a whole.”

Meanwhile, Go-Ahead has trained mental health champions at each of its ten UK regional bus companies to spot triggers, reassure people in distress, and advise colleagues on how to access support.

The initiative, which began in 2020 at Brighton & Hove and Metrobus, is intended to break any remaining stigma surrounding the subject.

Sam Facey, Go-Ahead’s Head of Safety, said: “At Go-Ahead, we want to make sure that everybody within our business is properly supported.

“There must be no stigma around mental health, and we want to make sure that everybody knows that help is at hand when they need it.”

Through the programme, one mental health first aider at Go Northwest in Manchester, supported a bus driver who, after several family bereavements, was struggling to continue with his day-to-day duties.

Go-Ahead provided counselling and directed the driver towards Able Futures, a support partnership.

About 80 employees across the Group have now undergone this training since its launch and there are current plans to offer further training to a new cohort.

Facey added: “Our mental health first aiders are a great support for anyone facing difficulties and are always available.

“Even some of our customers are benefiting from the skills our first aiders have gained through mental health training. We will continue this support for as long it is needed as it has proven to be a success.”

Ford has teamed up with construction industry charity the Lighthouse Club to launch the “Make it Visible” campaign designed to actively promote wellbeing awareness amongst its van customers.

Transit vans will be visiting sites across the country manned by the Lighthouse Club’s on-site team – all Mental Health First Aiders with relatable experiences in the construction industry.

They will wear high-viz safety vests while posters will direct workers to a safe place to talk off-site, so that more can seek help easily.

Balfour Beatty, a key supporter of the initiative, has also been involved in piloting the scheme at one of its sites in London.

The launch follows on from Ford’s Elephant in the Transit campaign from 2018, building awareness of male suicide and promoting the front seats of a vehicle as a safe space to talk.

Mandy Dean, Director of Commercial Vehicles at Ford of Britain and Ireland, said: “We feel that it’s important to actively promote wellbeing awareness amongst our customers and help put mental safety on an equal footing with physical safety on construction sites.

“To do this Ford have partnered with the Lighthouse Construction Club, a charity 100% dedicated to providing emotional, physical and financial wellbeing support to the construction community and their families.

“Together we’re helping to make the support more visible, so more workers know about the assistance available to them.”

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is also running a campaign urging the UK workforce to ‘call it a day when the day is done’ and has partnered with Mental Health UK to curate an essential wellbeing toolbox, providing free support and guidance.

Research for the brand’s Down Tools campaign found that 75 per cent of people work beyond their contracted hours and almost half face having to work at least one weekend a month to catch up.

Also, a third admitted that working extra hours has increased due to the impact of the pandemic.

Kate Thompson, Head of Marketing at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said: “It’s vital that we allow ourselves enough time to switch off from work.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has blurred the lines between work and life causing a dangerous imbalance, whether that’s struggling to log-off when working from home or battling to keep pace with increased workload.

“We hope by raising awareness through our Down Tools campaign, we can encourage people to make their mental health a priority, because ultimately we work better when we feel better.”

Drivers and other road transport staff should feel like they can be open about any issues, rather than keeping things bottled up.

It is therefore essential that drivers and road transport staff are always able to access the right mental health support from employers, colleagues and the wider industry to prevent things becoming dangerously stressful.

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