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Health and Wellbeing of Older Professional Drivers

Dr Sheena Johnson, a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Business School, explains how the ageing profile of professional drivers offers lessons for the rest of the workforce.

The Age, Health and Professional Drivers’ Network (AHPD Network) works to find ways of supporting and improving the health and wellbeing of professional drivers. It includes representatives from the University of Manchester and industry bodies.

Following the removal of a formal ‘retirement age’, and changes to the state pension age, there is an increasing trend for people to continue working into older age. Along with a decrease in the number of young people entering the workplace, this means some organisations are relying more and more on older workers.

One of many industries experiencing an ageing workforce is the logistics and transport sector, with the average age of a professional driver, such as a lorry driver, now over 50 years of age. At the same time, there is a chronic shortage of professional drivers and it can be challenging to attract new recruits. It is estimated that the over 60 age group represents 13% of all drivers, and only 2% of lorry drivers are aged under twenty-five.

There is little evidence that employers are beginning to think about the health implications of managing an ageing workforce. If you think about the job of a lorry driver, you can start to imagine many health and wellbeing risks as a result of their work. For example, they can experience loneliness; stressors related to increased volumes of traffic; exhaustion due to long and irregular working hours; difficulty in accessing regular, healthy meals; and few exercise opportunities. These factors can lead to serious medical conditions.

There is little evidence that employers are beginning to think about the health implications of managing an ageing workforce.
Best practice guidelines for improving health and wellbeing

In 2017, we set up the Age, Health and Professional Drivers’ Network (AHPD Network) to work with professional drivers and their managers to find out what health and wellbeing practices organisations can do to support older drivers to remain in the workforce. As a result, we have produced a set of Best Practice Guidelines that focus on the mental and physical health and wellbeing needs of professional drivers, however much of the content is relevant to older employees in general.

The guidelines focus on ten areas of health and wellbeing that our research identified as significant for older workers. You can see these in the Wellbeing Wheel below, and find the full set of guidelines here:

Wellbeing wheel
The wellbeing wheel

We have written the guidelines to be accessible for everyone; and we provide useful links to resources for managers at all levels that are interested in addressing health and wellbeing needs of drivers.

The guidelines apply to drivers of all ages, although we do highlight advice that is particularly relevant to older drivers. Here are a couple of examples:

  • In relation to improving mental health, older drivers are more likely to have caring responsibilities (e.g. for family members). Simple steps can be taken to relieve any related stress, such as supporting flexible working; or ensuring line managers appreciate and support the need for older workers to leave work at short notice, which is important and fosters loyalty to the employer.
  • A tip for drivers of all ages in relation to obesity is that by focusing organisational initiatives on healthy eating this can combat weight gain more effectively than encouraging physical activity.

One thing we highlight the importance of when advising organisations is that managers need to realise that protecting health at an early stage is a more effective strategy than waiting for health issues to arise in older drivers. Something that we should all be mindful of when protecting our own health too!

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Sheena Johnson
Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School