Tackling Burnout in the Transportation Sector

Transportation workers are increasingly suffering with stress which can often lead to burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. Latest research tells us that 44 percent of transportation workers feel that their life is out of control, and 45 percent admit there are times they’ve felt like running away, highlighting their fragile mental state. With COVID still causing health issues and the cost of living crisis leaving many struggling to cope, stress and burnout is only going to increase.

So can organisations do anything to tackle the rising instances of burnout in the transportation sector or is it simply out of their control? The answer lies in improving key aspects of organisational culture as Robert Ordever, European MD of workplace culture expert, O.C. Tanner, explains.


Are transportation workers more susceptible to burnout?

No-one is immune to mental illness, including transportation workers, with almost half (49 percent) admitting that their mood is often up and down.

So why is this? A BMC Public Health Study ‘Measuring job stress in transportation workers‘ (August 2021) cites repetitive and monotonous work, ergonomic demands, inflexible schedules, shift work and excessive environmental stimuli as leading to job strain. The lack of social support together with the imbalance between perceived effort and rewards, were also highlighted as being significant contributors to stress. With transportation workers experiencing long hours in isolation, and away from family and friends, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they’re prone to burnout.  Add to the mix the transportation sector’s macho culture, making it hard for workers to speak out and ask for help, and instances of mental illness including burnout, increase in probability.

Far from being simply a ‘personal issue’, burnout is also a business issue, with companies that experience moderate-to-severe burnout among their workforce having a 376 percent reduced likelihood of highly engaged employees, a 87 percent reduced likelihood of employees staying with the company, and 22 percent decreased work output.

Plus, in the particular case of transportation workers, stress and burnout affects not only the sufferers and their companies but, given its predictive role of traffic crashes, threatens the health and welfare of all potential road users. In fact, globally, up to a third of all traffic accidents, which cause 1.3 million deaths a year, involve professional drivers.


The link between a poor workplace culture and burnout

Mental illness is complex and can be driven by a number of different factors, however what we do know is that a toxic workplace culture increases moderate to severe burnout by 157 per cent and even the smallest lapses in workplace culture can lead to mild burnout. A poor workplace culture is caused by a number of elements, from their being a lack of organisational purpose and few opportunities to grow and develop, through to poor social connections, a lack of appreciation and a ‘control and command’ leadership approach in which workers are expected to follow orders and not answer back.

By addressing issues with organisational culture, this will help to reduce instances of burnout.


Making your culture supportive of mental illness

Firstly, it’s key to create an honest and open culture rather than perpetuate the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture that exists across the transportation sector. When open conversations don’t happen, this exacerbates feelings of stress, and so the workplace must become one of trust, integrity and openness so that people can ask for help and support without feeling embarrassed or stigmatised.

It’s also important to find ways to keep workers connected to their family, leaders and colleagues, as organisations with poor social connections have increased cases of burnout. This is especially important when employees are working away and can’t spend time with family and friends. When workers feel less connected to their workplace, culture and organisational purpose, burnout increases by 11 times.

Plus, it’s time to nurture a new generation of modern leaders. Traditional leadership, which focuses on control and authority, no longer has a place in today’s workplace as it increases mental health issues. In fact, traditional leadership increased burnout by 10 percent back in 2020, and this figure is now likely to be significantly higher. Championing a modern leadership approach means focusing on understanding and mentoring every employee. Getting to know people as individuals, advocating for them, providing an ‘open door’ policy and connecting people together socially and emotionally, are all vital if employees are to be given a safe space in which to unload and speak freely. Employees who have trusting relationships with their managers, will feel more able to speak up when they start to feel overwhelmed with the long hours and/or the expectations placed on them.

By prioritising staff recognition and reward, this will also help to elevate workers’ self-worth, engagement levels and ‘sense of belonging’, all of which are linked to better mental health. In fact, O.C Tanner’s research during the pandemic found that employees who hadn’t been given recognition for 30 days or more were 77 percent more likely to be depressed.

Furthermore, demonstrating inclusivity and equality will create the right environment for workers to have honest conversations. Every employee must be able to act authentically rather than ‘put on an act’, believing that their differences and unique qualities are celebrated rather than ridiculed or criticised.


Culture first

Only by calling-out poor cultures and proactively making improvements, will the transportation sector have a chance of tackling the escalating burnout and mental health crisis. It’s time to turn ‘stiff upper lip’ and controlling cultures on their head, instead nurturing organisational cultures in which openness, understanding, acceptance and appreciation are championed.