Why Mental Health for Essential Workers Matters

The risk of experiencing mental illness as an essential worker is high — leaving many workers debilitated, unsafe while operating equipment, burnt out, or with suicidal tendencies. If left untreated, mental illness can pose significant threats to more parties than just the worker. Other workers, customers, clients, the machinery, and even the product are at risk as well. The damage in these circumstances is astronomical for everyone involved. But these aren’t the only reasons why mental health for essential workers matters.

Strap In for the Long Run

As a company, you can help steer your staff to safety. Putting resources in place to help protect your workers is not only responsible, but it’s also smart business. According to estimates from a recent World Health Organization-led study on mental health, depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. In addition to safeguarding against damages and inspiring productivity, it’s an employee retention opportunity in a perennially competitive hiring market. You have everything to gain by making your company more amenable to workers — especially in the arena of mental health. So what are the best ways to take action? Above all else, you want to take time to explore the mental health tools and options available for drivers. But before you swing into problem-solving mode, you need a firm grip on the issue at hand — the stressors, the risks, and the underlying needs that cause them. These insights should form the basis of your approach.

Know the Mind Behind the Wheel

The complexities of life on the road are myriad. The isolation of extended days and time away from family leaves many workers feeling deeply alone. The monotony of daily tasks can be numbing on the one hand, while the dangers of the job can spike anxiety on the other. On top of that, workers like truck drivers often witness a greater number of major accidents than the average person. And some have been in critical accidents themselves. The trauma of these experiences can be particularly damaging to a driver’s stability. “PTSD is an ongoing risk in the transportation industry,” said Katie Love, Marketing Manager at WorkHound. “Accidents involving injury and death are extremely shocking events to witness or experience directly. Drivers may develop obsessive fears or flashbacks while having to remain on the road for prolonged periods of time.” Another challenge for workers is the amount of time they must spend on the job. This makes maintaining relationships difficult for some. Time spent with family and friends is often inadequate, perpetuating the sense of loneliness many already feel while isolated in their trucks. For some workers, the ripple effects can be far-reaching.

Employers: Reach Out and Listen

As a company, the single most important thing you can do to support workers struggling with mental health is to make a connection. “Stigmas around the topic of mental health can make it very difficult for workers to admit when they’re struggling, even in ‘open door policy‘ cultures,” said Love. “But when employers proactively and consistently communicate about the issue, workers start realizing they’re not alone in their experiences and are thus more likely to seek help.” Another way to make employees more comfortable expressing their mental health needs is to provide them with an anonymous way to do so, suggested Love. “The real-time feedback platform provided by WorkHound is designed to facilitate sensitive conversations like these,” she explained. “It’s also a great way to gain insight into potential changes you can make internally that would better accommodate employees’ mental health needs while making them safer on the job.” Some of those changes might include:
  • Implementing an emergency phone line that allows workers to call trained professionals for support when they need someone to confide in while on the job
  • Adjusting your insurance policy to provide coverage for remote therapy sessions
  • Providing workers with their schedules far enough in advance so that it’s easier for them to arrange quality time with family and friends
  • Amending your bereavement policy so employees have adequate time to travel for funerals and experience necessary grieving with loved ones
  • Trucking companies can offer the opportunity to bring companions on the road: family, friends, or pets
  • Creating physical spaces that encourage social interaction for workers when they are in the workplace
  • Being more receptive to workers’ needs for time off
  • Allowing truck drivers to use PTO in some of the locations they travel for work or providing a stipend for their vacation time
  • Offer assistance for self-care routines, such as gym memberships, a massage, or even necessary hygiene practices, like a hair cut at a barber
Most importantly, remember to listen closely and be responsive as ever. Workers know what they come up against on the job better than anyone, which makes them excellent partners in tackling this problem. And be sure not to wait to take action or communicate updates. Staff members who reach out with mental health concerns and assume they’re going unacknowledged will take note — and potentially seek employment elsewhere. But when employees feel valued and that their needs are being taken seriously, especially on the topic of health, it makes a real difference. And ultimately, employee safety and company safety always go hand-in-hand. WorkHound provides an easy-to-use feedback platform that gives employees a voice. If you’re ready to learn how using our tool could improve the feedback culture at your business or organization, talk with an expert today.

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