When looking at truck driver health, we often focus on poor diet, lack of exercise and irregular sleep as the main culprits. We can try to educate and inspire drivers around these areas, but we can’t control them. One thing we can control, however, is creating a company culture of touch. That’s right, I said touch.
Human touch is far more profound and connected to our mental and physical well-being than most of us think or realize. Recent research studies show that touch is truly fundamental to communication, bonding and health. It is a form of expressing compassion. Touch, including petting an animal, has also been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, boost the immune system, and even improve concentration and learning.
While scientists are still discovering how and why touch impacts health, they are certain that there is a significant connection between touch and better health. In 1944, the U.S. government performed a research experiment to find out if human touch was important for the development of babies. Four months into the study, half the babies that were not given human touch beyond the basic needs of being wiped and fed had died. Fortunately, the experiment was canceled. This study, along with several others in the 1950s and 1960s, led to many more studies (more ethical and humane ones) that further support the notion that more touch leads to better health.
When we consider how little touch many truck drivers receive, whether it’s because of time spent alone, being away from family for long periods of time, or simply how many drivers struggle with touch for various other reasons, we can see that this is a real challenge that is negatively impacting the health of our drivers.
What can we do about it?
First, it’s crucial that our industry recognize this issue as a real and critical problem. From there, we can create a culture of “touch” in our organizations and begin to make impactful changes. A simple step is to educate all team members on the importance of touch, whether they’re on the orientation team, work in the shop, are driver managers, executives and everyone in between on the importance of touch. Follow this up by encouraging a culture in your organization where an employee always shakes the hand of a driver when they see them. If they feel it’s appropriate, adding a light tap on the upper arm or shoulder can increase the impact.
Obviously, it is important to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touch.
Another way to increase touch for drivers is to encourage them to get soft tissue or deep tissue massages once a month or at least every other month, whether it be offering massage at truck terminals, providing discounts with national chains, or encouraging through incentives. This will not only help with mental and physical well-being, but also with musculoskeletal problems that often plague long-haul truck drivers. You can even encourage pets as companions for truck drivers. Along with battling loneliness and depression, petting your furry companion has similar benefits as human touch.
On a final note, touch releases Oxytocin, nicknamed the trust or love hormone. In an era where many drivers do not trust their employer or carrier, this can go a long way to building lasting and healthy relationships.