The purpose

Further to the advice the RTF issued on 23 August 2021, the purpose of this Advisory is to again raise awareness and remind operators of the importance managing the mental health of their workers, particularly given the increased risk associated with the impact of COVID-19.

Evidence the risk to safety is increasing

The RTF has been participating in the weekly Freight and Driver Forum hosted by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) and have heard:

• While generally the behaviour of motorists is good, the Police and Waka Kotahi have witnessed isolated examples of extremely unsafe behaviour and there appears to be an increase in vehicles speeding. Waka Kotahi reports that its camera monitoring indicates what appear to be increased examples of “tail-gating” occurring

• Transport operators have shared anecdotes of witnessing adverse behaviour changes by their staff resulting in minor incidents and it would appear these events could be related to operators being sub-consciously distracted

• The insurance sector representative reported that during the last lockdown period there were several incidents of major consequence.

To a degree, the above may be seen as relatively anecdotal however, our view is that there is no doubt that the changes lockdowns bring to peoples’ livelihoods do have a psychosocial impact, and will increase risk of unsafe behaviour. Therefore, that increased risk needs to be managed.

Shifting the focus from machines to the people

It’s easy to keep track and manage the machines in your business. The trucks are all scheduled, be it for work or maintenance, the loaders and forklifts are in the stores ready to go, and continuous reporting from the tech on board helps you know the status of each vehicle in your fleet.

Getting a status report on how the people who operate all of these machines in your business are doing isn’t so easy – but it has never been as important as it is now.

The current state of uncertainty, frustration, fear and concern means everyone is vulnerable – some more than others. Everyone is looking to those in leadership positions to lead, to reassure, and to support as they work through lock downs, or make the most of being at home in their bubble because the work isn’t there. This means that your workload has increased – the emotional workload that is.

I watched an interview with Mike King recently where he was talking about the isolation of lock down and the effect it has on young people. He said something that made me stop and think about my own reaction to this lock down – in particular, how I relate to my 16-year-old in our bubble. His comment was, “if you want to know how someone is doing and really want them to answer honestly, be up front up and honest with them, share how you are doing and let them see you have days where you find it really hard too”.

I am not saying that I am suddenly going to start having long conversations with my daughter about how crap I think this whole situation is, or how I hate turning on the TV and hearing nothing but negative and distressing news, because that isn’t what she needs, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to not be “A ok” all the time. Maybe I don’t have to be positive all the time, but can tell her that this lock down, this Covid stuff is tough and I’m feeling it too.

It could be the same for the people in your business. We are all really good at putting on the “business as usual” attitude, just get on and get it done, but maybe that isn’t always a good thing. If the people around us don’t see that the same things that worry them worry us too, maybe they won’t feel they can share how they are really doing. Managing people during a pandemic is not easy, to be fair, it’s not easy most of the time – but by connecting with your people, you also get an extra level of support which helps lighten your load too, one that goes beyond just today.

Many of you have great internal processes in play for connecting with your teams. Regular e-newsletters, internal Facebook pages, messages on in cab screens and group texts are all really good ways to keep everyone in the loop on a daily basis – and with things changing every day, this becomes a real necessity.

It’s an ideal time to step up this communication, for all of us. Connecting in whatever way we can is vital to our mental health and wellbeing, now more than ever.

Sharing info around alert levels, health and safety advice and requirements for your teams that are related to our current environments are all great ways to connect teams – but so is just checking in to see if they are going ok.

Celebrating successes – no matter how small – sharing things like birthdays, work anniversaries, new babies etc, at a time when good news is in short supply, can bring a smile and lighten the day for those getting stuff done out on the road.

Checking in with your office-based team daily and being in the despatch office when trucks roll in at the end of a day to say “Hi” to the drivers before they head home, makes a big difference and shows you appreciate the day’s work they have done.

Looking out for your team doesn’t involve spending lots of money or putting in extra systems, it is easy to start with connection – maintaining it becomes the challenge then, but when led from the top, it gains its own momentum.

In short, finding ways to shift the focus from the machines to the people in your business – not only during a pandemic but as we move forward and learn new ways to do business – is a positive move you can make now. This won’t only increase the productivity and resilience of your team as we find our way through this current crazy time, but will start the wheels turning on a new way to engage and manage the greatest assets your business has – your people.

We recommend you consider using guides such as Workplace wellbeing during Covid- 19 | Mental Health Foundation which is provided by the Mental Health Foundation to promote a supportive environment for your employees. This guidance will help you assess the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and reduce risk factors and increase protective factors.