According to OSHA, 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, often affecting their home life. And approximately 65% of U.S. workers consider work as a “very significant” source of stress.
What about those in the driving workplace?
Employees who drive are facing an increasingly challenging landscape. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has used the term “national crisis,” citing dramatic increases in traffic deaths in recent years.
Meanwhile, 72% of people who drive as a core part of their job said they feel pressured to respond to work-related calls and texts while driving.
At least once every 4-6 miles “a phone is chirping, beeping, ringing. It’s unfortunate for people who drive as part of their job to try to self-police against this,” said David Coleman, from TRUCE Software, Fleet Safety Expert, in a recent interview.
How can companies protect employees’ mental health in the driving workplace? The following article sheds light on the intersection of mobile device use, mental health, and driving – and concludes with technology recommendations to improve the employee experience.
72% of workers said they feel pressured to respond to work-related calls and texts while driving
Mobile Technology at Work
Digital transformation has permeated almost every industry, and technology is an absolute necessity in today’s workplace. Both executives and employees agree that smartphones are critical to work, as they contribute to worker efficiency, effectiveness and productivity.
In fact, “97% of employees carry at least 1 mobile device with them while working” according to TRUCE’s research. Of those, 65% said they can complete some or most of their work on a mobile device, and 18% said that specific tasks had to be completed via mobile device.
Between personal lives and work, employees are almost inevitably tethered to their devices – with impacts to their wellbeing.
Mental Health and Technology
The American Psychology Association found that “excessive technology and social media use has paved the way for the ‘constant checker’,” defined as someone who constantly checks email, texts, and social media. In their research, constant checkers experienced an overall higher stress level.
We all understand stress as unpleasant, but what happens in the brain? During stressful times, we tend to overreact more and perceive non-threatening events as threatening. It also influences decision making to become less rational.
Chronic stress and consistently being in a state of “fight or flight” releases cortisol and other stress hormones that disrupt body processes and introduce health problems. Long-term stress is linked to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension, heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, sleep problems, weight gain, memory issues, and concentration impairment.
- Psychological/mental issues: anxiety, depression, social anxiety, impaired concentration, or ADHD
- Negative emotions: increased loneliness, sadness or hopelessness
- Behavioral changes: lowered social skills, self-motivation, emotional intelligence, and empathy; increased conflict; or poor sleep
(Note the overlap between smartphone addiction symptoms and chronic stress symptoms.)
A significant body of research exists on young adults, which are more vulnerable. The US Surgeon General cautioned Americans about social media in particular, saying, “There are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
Diving Deeper into Digital Distress
Part of technology-induced increased stress and anxiety could be the missing nonverbal cues. Messages’ tone or meaning are not always clear over text, email, and other digital formats.
“Communications become more ambiguous,” argues counseling psychologist and clinical director Dr. Raffaello Antonino, “So although texting may seem more immediate and efficient than in-person communication, it is more complex to process, as it is easier to misinterpret.”
In addition, constant interruptions are not good for our brains over the long term, leading people to have more difficulty with deep thought, reflection, creativity, ingenuity, or quality/meaningful work.
Cal Newport, acclaimed author of Deep Work, explains, “Network tools* are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused… Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work” (p. 6-7).
* “Network tools,” as defined by Newport, include email, text, social media, and platforms like Buzzfeed or Reddit.
“One reason for the alarming increase in distracted-driving activities is that the line between when you’re working and when you’re at home has blurred significantly. Especially during the pandemic, that sense that, ‘I need to be in touch with my employer because I feel removed’ from work absolutely grew.”
Lack of Boundaries in the Driving Workplace
More than half of employees say that management expects them to be available after hours via their smartphone even on their personal devices. This “always on” culture means that employees cannot fully disengage from work, and it can lead to chronic stress.
In another study, just the perceived expectation of having to answer emails during non-work hours loomed over employees and caused additional anxiety, relationship stress, and poorer health. Email sending volumes alone have risen by 82% over the past two years. Imagine how much worse this might be with the added pressure to address text messages and other notifications.
This constant connectivity has infiltrated the driving workplace. Chris Hayes, Leader of the Transportation and Risk-Control Practice at Travelers Insurance explains, “One reason for the alarming increase in distracted-driving activities is that the line between when you’re working and when you’re at home has blurred significantly. Especially during the pandemic, that sense that, ‘I need to be in touch with my employer because I feel removed’ from work absolutely grew.”
What kind of mental health toll does the responsibility of ignoring notifications – or worse, responding to work notifications on the road – take on an employee? When it comes to distracted driving, seconds make a difference between life and death. Checking a notification can mean that someone has driven the length of a football field without looking, and chances of getting in a crash double when people text and drive. Unfortunately, distracted driving is only trending upward.
Mental Health and Driving: Free to Just Drive
A disconnect exists among employers and employees and their perspectives on mental health. Specifically, employers believe they are supporting employee mental health, yet the majority of frontline workers disagree. These results were also echoed in another study where more than 1 in 4 employees did not feel cared for by their employer.
What can companies do to better support employee mental health? For companies with drivers, part of the wellness initiative should include an actionable stance against digital distractions.
Empower employees through a “just drive” safety culture, where drivers are set up for success – encouraged to focus on the important job of getting safely from point A to point B, without the extra noise. The just drive culture should also go from the top down, with managers respecting when drivers are traveling (reaching out to associates once on a job site rather than on the road).
“It’s unfortunate to ask somebody to drive and then ‘catch them.’ Even with new technology like AI, or beeping if somebody’s [distracted], that’s really treating the symptom. Given the proliferation of mobile technology, engineering out the problem is a benefit to the person. Our technology is beyond just driving. We think holistically about a person,”
Technology to Improve Employee Experience
For example, TRUCE is a software that honors the focus drivers need to have, displaying only safe apps like navigation, hands-free calls, or music. Trivial notifications are blocked, which automatically prevents not only mental clutter but injuries, accidents, and liability exposure.
Technology may be the key to managing technology distractions. However, not just any technology will do the trick. For example, dash cams “correct” distracted behavior, but can poison company culture and employee experience.
“It’s unfortunate to ask somebody to drive and then ‘catch them.’ Even with new technology like AI, or beeping if somebody’s [distracted], that’s really treating the symptom. Given the proliferation of mobile technology, engineering out the problem is a benefit to the person. Our technology is beyond just driving. We think holistically about a person,” said fleet safety advocate, and TRUCE’s VP Strategy & Market Development, David Coleman.
TRUCE also gives teams ownership in safety culture and digital transformation, igniting positive organizational change that lasts. TRUCE combines employee recognition, employee engagement, and fun (non-distracting) gamification that inspires consistent safe driving and makes safety a team effort.
The good habits developed via TRUCE also transfer to other parts of an employee’s life. As a Terminix associate shared, “It broke a bad habit that I wanted to get rid of for so long. It’s amazing what it did for me. Even when I’m off the clock, it still feels like the TRUCE app is in my phone, and I apply the same concepts. It really made a big change in my life.”
Ready to give drivers back their peace of mind? Learn more about TRUCE.