Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 8 months or so, you’ve likely heard mention of the Great Resignation. This pertains to the voluntary job exodus of 15 million workers since April of 2021 and transportation being among the hardest-hitting.
Unlike the Great Depression of the last century when workers were desperately accepting any job they could find, we are experiencing the opposite: workers who are leaving their jobs in great haste.
“Right now, the job market appears tightest for workers without a four-year degree and for those in relatively lower wage roles,” says Guy Berger, LinkedIn’s principal economist. It’s no surprise that life on the road isn’t for everyone, but why are our long-term drivers leaving the industry for good?
At the center of this issue lies a topic that can be easily overlooked: the lack of consideration for mental stressors that our drivers are faced with every day.
Mental Health Plays a Major Role
Mental health has traditionally been a subject that gets “swept under the rug” in general society, as evidenced by the millions of undiagnosed or untreated individuals that walk our streets each day with a mental health condition.
It’s seen as taboo, unimportant, or secondary to the “real” issues at hand, when in fact, it can be — and is — just as important as our physical health.
If carriers were to invest the time and consideration into addressing mental health for their drivers, we might have a different scenario on our hands.
Alas, this is not the case. Although many carriers provide health insurance to all of their employees, the mental health department is usually lacking, if not completely non-existent.
Mental Exhaustion/Employee Burnout
One factor that plays a significant role in mental health is exhaustion—doing the same tasks, day in, day out, combined with long hours and little recognition or appreciation leads to this, among other factors. Prolonged feelings of this exhaustion and an inability to cope can lead to burnout—a decrease in determination or motivation in work leading to reduced performance. According to a recent Indeed report, Burnout has been on the rise, as 52% of workers stated experiencing burnout in 2021 and 67% of workers feel the burnout has worsened since the pandemic.
As humans we are designed to experience new things, connect with people, and explore our world to satisfy our natural curiosity. The mundane, though often necessary, must be supplemented in some way to keep us from mental exhaustion.
Sadly, the trucking industry hasn’t fully embraced health and wellness, looking less at what they can do to help their drivers avoid the possibility of burnout and more at what they can do to “fix the problem,” which often results in recruiting new drivers to replace the ones who are leaving — only to find themselves in a similar situation down the road.
Simply hiring new drivers has proven difficult due to the continuing driver shortage crisis. Our pool of new drivers is dwindling from the lack of interest in the younger demographic.
COVID-19 adds another layer of stress and resignation to this industry. Extended isolation, abrupt schedule changes, long detention times, and tight deadlines are also key factors to our already fed-up driver’s mental wellbeing. This applies equally to owner-operators and over-the-road drivers; more support is needed for workers everywhere.
What Can Be Done Differently?
So, what can carriers do to help the situation — besides simply replacing these drivers who choose to leave due to burnout?
The answer is not a simple one, but it starts with a conversation. Taking the time to assess what drivers consider important regarding their work environment, offering more wide-ranging health benefits (to include mental health care, for example), and addressing mental health on the road are all good places to start but this won’t be a one-time quick fix.
An ongoing investigation into the wellbeing of professional drivers is critical to retaining drivers who are happier, more relaxed and, ultimately better able to perform their jobs.
Taking care of our essential drivers means more than just health benefits and onsite fitness centers; people need to feel heard, seen, and acknowledged, especially when they experience hard times.
Drivers are people, after all, and they need to be treated as such, including getting the help they need for their wellbeing — mental health included.