By Carol Kirk, fleet development manager Midlands and South at Mercedes-Benz Vans
The nation’s van community is working harder than ever on the frontline to deliver more medical supplies, groceries, essential goods and parcels – but it has come at considerable personal cost.
During the pandemic, the average driver’s working week has increased by almost five hours - nearly an extra 20 hours a month.
The extra effort required to keep households and the supply chain moving in extraordinary circumstances has compromised the work-life balance of one in three members of the van community.
Indeed, almost 40% say that mental wellbeing is their biggest concern right now, more so than physical health (36%).
This is a topic that we have monitored over three years as part of our Mercedes-Benz Vans Business Barometer, which gathers the opinions of more than 2,000 people in the van community.
With the rise of online shopping, the pressure continues to grow for the nation’s van drivers to battle through, especially when we take into account almost 85% feel more tired in the autumn and winter compared to summer and 45% also admit they suffer from low mood more in the darker, colder winter months.
Nearly one in three (30%) say they suffer from symptoms akin to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in winter.
Add to that that virtually all members of the van community (95%) feel responsible for making sure that the festive period runs smoothly, with the pressure to deliver an estimated 100 million parcels during December, the mix is unfortunately creating a perfect storm for poor mental health.
Our research has also shown that more than half (56%) of van drivers and owners still say there is a stigma attached to discussing mental health at work, with the top reason being that it is a ‘male-dominated industry’ (50%), and a further 46% highlighting fears over job security and career progression.
Talking about this is so important as the latest Government figures (ONS Suicides in England and Wales: 2019 Registrations) show that if you are a man between 20 and 49, you're more likely to die from suicide than cancer, road accidents or heart disease, and suicide rates in men are more than three times higher than women. In fact, males aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate, according to the data.
It’s very important that male-dominated workplaces do more to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health issues and encourage open and honest conversations about mental wellbeing.
The van community needs to look at creating a long-term strategic approach, with everyone committing to educating themselves about mental health and wellbeing, and keeping the conversation going.
For management, the education needs to go a step further with ongoing training – something like Mental Health First Aid England – to ensure that they can support those who may be struggling, as well as implementing strategies to boost wellbeing in the workplace.
There isn’t a quick fix or an easy answer to the issue of mental health in the van community, but we know that 82% feel that their efforts are appreciated by customers, and 78% rightly feel that they are helping keep the general public safe at this time – the feelings of being valued are higher than ever.
However, while you’d be hard pushed to find anyone that the van community hadn’t reached at some point, let alone during the pandemic as they deliver goods, enable services and transport people, only a quarter of UK adults associate van drivers as key workers who deliver essential goods (24%).
This begs the question – what more can be done to highlight the role that van community plays in all our lives, and how can we all collectively push this topic in our day-to-day lives?
It is important that we continue to support this vital sector with kindness, because without them, quite simply the country would not be running in the same way; rather than spending time engaging with their families and friends, they have selflessly put the country first and willingly gone above and beyond the call of duty.
The role of the van community has never been more important to keeping small businesses going and recharging the UK economy, and we’re proud to support them every step of the way.
Carol Kirk is on the judging panel of the 2020 Amazon Everywoman in Transport & Logistics Awards. The virtual awards ceremony will take place tonight (October 6), celebrating the talented individuals who have kept the country moving in this extraordinary year. For more information on the awards, which Fleet News is supporting as the official media partner, visit the Everywoman website here.