We help organisations to maximise success by supporting three essential goals: wellbeing, productivity, and insight.
The pandemic has proven how inextricable those elements are – with a global health threat that has stalled productivity, and the fundamental need for data to help keep people and businesses healthy.
Few industries have felt this more keenly than Transport and Logistics, with workers – many in stressful and risk-heavy public-facing roles – among the ‘key’ core, counted on to keep the country moving.
Typically, organisations in the sector have large, diverse, and widely dispersed workforces. These are exactly the kinds of business that gain most from our service.
Our clients benefit from up-to-the-minute visibility of their entire workforce, highlighting staff absence trends at regional, divisional, and individual levels – and swiftly informing a positive course of action.
In the context of the pandemic, this has helped to isolate infection risks, redeploy staff to minimise disruption, and support dynamic workforce planning with a projected picture of staff availability.
Moreover, it’s informing the wellbeing support that transport and logistics workers need as we enter the post-lockdown ‘new normal’.
How does it work? With a unique combination of clinical expertise and digital management tools.
FirstCare’s service is led by 24/7 access to medical professionals. Our multi-disciplinary nurse team offers triage, advice, and absence reporting – providing NHS/PHE-approved guidance to help employees get healthy quicker and reduce lost working days.
We even save lives; more than one a day in 2020, with 26% of those ‘code red’ clinical incidents relating to mental health crises.
Business leaders, HR teams, and line managers can access our state-of-the-art proprietary software, with real-time reporting, notifications and alerts, backed with the assurance of medical accuracy.
Since 2004, we’ve recorded more than 22 million days’ absence data across circa 760,000 members – the UK’s largest resource of its kind.
This, paired with expert account management, means we understand how to help you effect positive organisational change, reduce risk, and nurture a culture that your employees are proud to be part of.
Levels of optimism are on the rise as the vaccine rollout continues and the Government delivers its roadmap out of a third (and hopefully final) lockdown.
But while many of us look to brighter days ahead, it’s crucial that we don’t ignore the mental health of those key workers who have kept the country’s wheels turning throughout the pandemic. FirstCare data for the transport and logistics sector showed clear spikes in workers needing time off due to mental health troubles when restrictions were eased following previous lockdowns.
The period from mid-May to early July 2020 – when people were encouraged back to work, schools returned, and shops and hospitality venues reopened following the first lockdown – saw a 57% increase in the number of workers in the sector affected by poor mental health.
The word ‘unprecedented’ has become synonymous with circumstances of the past year, but the fact is that the current situation is no longer unprecedented, and as we leave the third lockdown we should act upon what we learned from the previous two.
As restrictions are set to lift once again and increasing numbers of commuters will return to the roads and rails, it’s important that proactive businesses use this time to plan ahead and monitor employee wellbeing to identify and resolve burgeoning issues.
The transport sector has long been associated with mental health challenges, from bus drivers dealing with aggressive road users, to railway workers faced with the devastatingly high number of deaths that occur on the tracks each week. It’s little surprise that lost working days due to poor mental health more than doubled in the first quarter of 2020, when the effects of a worldwide pandemic were added to this already bubbling pot. Public transport workers have described daily abuse: “it feels like people just don’t care if we live or die” and “working relentlessly [...] to cover sick leave and vulnerable staff”.
The sector has seen a 24% increase in unplanned leave due to poor mental health (more than 610,000 days across the UK) since the start of the pandemic, and forward-thinking businesses are working hard to redress this rise and proactively avoid another spike following lockdown 3.0.
At our webinar for the latest CIPD conference, Annette Wheelan, HR Business Partner at Transpennine Express (TPE) commented: “One of the – I suppose – benefits of very few people travelling on our train services [during lockdown] has meant that the management team have had lots of time to talk to the employees.” The company hosted a series of e-learning sessions on mental health, sharing the best sources of support for employees, and its staff survey in July returned impressive positivity scores of 7.7/10; a reflection of its efforts to consult and support workers.
TPE workers also have access to 24/7 medical support via FirstCare’s nurse service. In 2020, 26% of the life-threatening ‘clinical incidents’ our nurse team handled were related to mental health, highlighting the importance of early intervention such as this.
It’s clear that there are important ongoing discussions to be had, and TPE is just one of many responsible companies that have been using this period of reduced demand to focus on speaking to staff and implementing improved mental health measures.
With the timeline for leaving lockdown laid out – there’s still time for others to do the same. The benefits of improving wellbeing provision will carry through the transitional period and into the ‘new normal’. Then we can all look forward to brighter days ahead.
You might not be able to plan for a pandemic, but you can plan during one. Using accurate workforce data, we are helping companies in the transport and logistics sector to chart a steady – and productive – course through the turbulence of COVID-19.
FirstCare data shows that surprisingly, since the start of the pandemic, only 19% of COVID-related lost working days have been due to confirmed cases.
Thankfully, the remaining 81% is much simpler to plan around.
The country’s reliance on transport and logistics has come to the fore during the pandemic, with a huge shift to online ordering and home delivery. It’s also thrown up unexpected pressures on supply chains, from pasta and patio heaters, to bikes and – famously – toilet rolls!
And just when businesses have needed all hands on deck to meet rapidly changing demands, operations have inevitably been threatened by the risk of staff shortages.
We know though, that with the right information, it’s possible to plan ahead to mitigate disruption. The 19% of COVID-related absence due to confirmed cases is – of course – deeply significant, but the remaining majority is largely precautionary or functional, such as quarantining or caring for a dependant. Provided you have up-to-the-minute data, and follow NHS guidelines, you can anticipate the duration of these absences and plan accordingly.
Transport and logistics is no stranger to tech, with supply chains using SaaS for agile logistics, automated inventory, and shipment tracking. The pandemic has simply highlighted the importance of such systems for accurate visibility over people too – arguably the most crucial link in keeping supply chains productive.
For companies to stay agile and outmanoeuvre uncertainty, real-time data is key. You need to understand where your staff are, what they’re going through, and when they’re going to be back at work. As Accenture attests, “to manage the crisis, planners cannot rely on the steady-state models on which most existing planning systems are based. They need to make decisions using real-time information, acting as the “nerve center” of the flow of supply chain data.”
So, what does that look like in real terms?
We've seen clients use data to pinpoint affected regions or departments and swiftly redeploy workers from other areas. Or act on real-time notifications to close the relevant section of a warehouse for a deep clean, rather than shutting down the entire facility.
With one of our larger clients, we facilitated an immediate SMS message to be sent to employees who recorded a suspected COVID case, directing them to company testing facilities where clear results could be expedited.
Accurate return-to-work dates mean our HR partners can project staff availability, simplifying admin and saving costs on things like agency workers, where block bookings can be made as opposed to day-by-day.
The country has collectively welcomed the Government’s positive new roadmap out of lockdown 3.0 – and its clear intention that this will be the last. But with a number of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ built into the plan, and potential uncertainty for some time to come, the profound national dependence on transport and logistics looks here to stay. Sector leaders should now seek data-driven solutions to keep not only staff but whole supply chains healthy, resilient, and productive.
There’s a distinct difference between information and insight, and however much we value relevant data - we know that stats are only a part of the whole story.
Network Rail Chairman Sir Peter Hendy agrees, telling FirstCare in a recent interview: “Adequate absence recording is not managing absence, it's having the correct records. It makes it easier to manage absence, and it makes it easier to manage your workforce - but it doesn't replace the relationship that you ought to have with each employee.” (Sign up to our mailing list to receive the full interview video)
When it comes to mental health in particular, it’s not the data itself that has innate value but how it informs your next steps in supporting employee wellbeing. FirstCare data reveals that 1 in 7 workers who need time off due to COVID* will subsequently need time off for mental health troubles too.
Forward-thinking companies might take this opportunity to put additional support in place for those who have been affected by COVID; opportunities to talk to a professional, information about mental health resources or greater investment in mental health training. This prioritises and bolsters employee wellbeing, but it also helps to minimise business disruption. Especially considering that time off work due to poor mental health following COVID lasts 63% longer than mental health-related leave on average (33.6 days compared to 20.7 days).
If trends such as this can be identified by relevant data, they can also be managed – but that takes real, meaningful human input.
With FirstCare’s service, members speak to a qualified nurse which means they are less likely to mistakenly self-diagnose, and the right course of support can be taken earlier. It also means the data recorded will be more accurate as employees who may feel embarrassed talking to colleagues about their health – particularly their mental wellbeing – speak directly to professionals like Nurse Team Leader Sarah Grobiski. Sarah believes the neutrality of the service is one of its true strengths: “The employees we speak to really appreciate having an impartial person. We get all sorts of calls – you know, it could be work-related stress, it could be COVID, it could be mental health and […] we can sit with that person and speak to them as long as we want to; as long as it's needed.”
Another example of the distinction between information and insight:
FirstCare works with a bus company whose data revealed a prevalence of drivers needing time off due to musculoskeletal issues. Analysis revealed that the affected drivers were all suffering similar complaints. One plausible means of support based on the stats might have been to implement a fast-track physio service, but by consulting the drivers, it became clear they all had a similar shift pattern – taking over from other drivers. In order to stick to the timetable, drivers were not adjusting their seat setups properly, leading to long shifts in compromised driving positions. The company altered shift patterns to allow drivers more time at changeover, and musculoskeletal issues decreased accordingly.
Understanding issues faced by employees was another topic touched on in our discussion with Sir Peter Hendy who stressed how important it is for management to understand the pressures faced by those on the front line: "just because you've got a professional engineering qualification, doesn't mean you're fit to manage two or three hundred maintenance people. […] I’m as keen now as I was 45 years ago that when you enter a workplace, particularly as a graduate, you should understand what people on the front line actually do […] I do my level best to persuade [graduates] to go out and do a job on the ground, and actually some of them have changed their lives through doing that.”
FirstCare CEO Ian Caminsky agrees that it’s empathy and understanding that make the difference to effective management: “FirstCare’s proprietary database is something we’re very proud of – but it means relatively little as an entity in its own right. The data is simply a means to an end, a tool to record and identify trends that can be explored and resolved through good management.”
As Peter Drucker articulated in Management Challenges for the 21st Century: “The purpose of information is not knowledge. It is being able to take the right action.”