Driving in the dark: hints and tips on driving at night

Many drivers – even experienced ones – don’t feel comfortable driving at night, which perhaps explains why road casualty statistics show that 40% of collisions occur in the hours of darkness.

Driving in darkness is certainly harder than in the hours of daylight. It is not as easy to judge speed and distance at night, with objects often closer than they appear, or travelling faster than first expected.

So as the days get shorter, fleet drivers should find these tips useful – or even life-saving.

  1. Time and space

The most obvious difference with night driving is the decreased visibility, compared to daytime. Drivers can’t see as far down the road, so hazards often seem as if they come from nowhere.

With this in mind, they should prepare for other road users (especially pedestrians and cyclists) by slowing down, driving at a steady pace, and creating more space for themselves.

  1. Lights

Lights are clearly vital at night, so drivers need to check that headlights and rear lights are clean and in full working order.

Dipped lights will be the order of the day, or most journeys, except on motorways, full beam can be used more frequently. However, drivers need to be conscious of oncoming vehicles and traffic ahead to avoid blinding them – especially with the latest LED headlights.

The same is true of rural driving. There could well be more scope to use full beam, which is especially useful on roads with lots of bends and frequent changes of direction, but drivers need to pay close attention for any indications of other traffic.

  1. Look for the warning signs

Concentration on what’s going on around them is even more crucial for drivers at night than it is during the day, because of the shorter reaction times available to them.

It, therefore, helps to recognise the warning signs: pinpricks of light from other cars; reflections from the eyes of animals at the side of, or crossing, roads; or reflective strips from the clothing of pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. Being aware of these signs can offer drivers more time to react to any eventuality.

  1. Don’t look too hard, though

Bright lights can adversely affect that all-important concentration at night, so drivers need to be careful not to become distracted by oncoming lights or illuminated signs. The best approach is to try not to look at them.

  1. Tiredness

The body’s natural rhythms mean that night-time is when it’s usually relaxing or asleep – especially if it’s had a hard day at work.

Night-time drivers therefore need to be aware of the dangers of tiredness behind the wheel – which is a major cause of collisions.

At the very first sign of tiredness, drivers need to either swap with another driver. If that isn’t possible, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) suggests pulling up somewhere to have a proper sleep or, if they need to press on, drinking two strong coffee drinks and having a short nap for around 15 minutes.
Source: Shell Fluid Thinking

How to make the 9-to-5 count: 10 easy ways to be more productive at work

Work smarter, not harder is a mantra we hear a lot. But what does it mean and how can you apply it to use your eight hours at work most effectively?

  1. Write a to-do list

To-do lists sometimes get a bad press because you often find yourself adding tasks quicker than you can cross them off. But they can be a useful tool, especially if you find it hard to prioritise, your head’s spinning with thoughts about what needs doing (but not actually doing them), or you’re simply likely to forget. Getting it down on paper can help you to focus, reduce anxiety and prompt your memory.

Add tasks in order of their importance. If your list gets too overwhelming have a ‘today’ list and a master list of longer-term tasks, which can be added to the ‘today’ list as necessary. This helps you to stay in the present. It’s also a good idea to write your list at the end of each day, which has a couple of benefits: it helps to establish a daily closing ritual to act as a trigger to stop working and as you have a list with your priorities at the top, you won’t waste time the next morning figuring out where to start.

  1. Write a stop-doing list

Alternatively, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leapand Others Don’t, suggests a stop-doing list. In a world where there is an increasing number of distractions, being stricter with yourself on time spent checking your mobile phone, updating your social media or browsing your favourite websites could be a useful start.

  1. Establish an opening ritual

We’ve mentioned having a closing ritual but as procrastination in the morning is a common hurdle you should also try to introduce an opening ritual. Having a tea or coffee while checking email, for example, is a good way to ease yourself in. Some time-management gurus advocate ignoring email first thing but if you work at an international company where colleagues are contacting you 24/7, a message you need to act on may have pinged into your inbox overnight. It’s also a good time to get on top of any outstanding emails before you start receiving more. Letting your emails pile up can cause stress so aim to get back to people within 24 hours, even if your response is just acknowledging you’ve received their message.

Be clear and concise in emails. Not only does this save writing time but it also reduces the chances of ambiguity that longer replies can create, which can lead to more to more to-ing and fro-ing as your recipient seeks clarification.

However, it’s important to ensure emailing as an opening ritual doesn’t become a distraction from that all-important first task on your to-do list (that’s if an email you just read hasn’t become your new priority…), so use finishing your drink as a trigger to get on with the jobs on today’s to-do-list.

The art of talking has been largely lost in the workplace but picking up the phone is often a much more time-efficient way to communicate. But like with email, it’s a good idea to be disciplined with it and set aside a portion of your day to make and return calls, and let people know the best time to reach you.

  1. Impose a time limit

Instead of just sitting down to work on a project and thinking, “I’m going to be here until this is done,” try thinking, “I’m going to work on this for three hours.” The time constraint will push you to focus and be more efficient, even if you don’t get it finished. And chances are you won’t, because as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman first pointed out in 1979, humans have a ‘planning fallacy’ – a tendency to underestimate how long it takes to complete a task – so try to build in buffer time that will allow you to come back to it another day. If you’re really struggling, the Pomodoro timer method can help you focus. The Pomodoro timer gives you a prescribed interval of 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. After 4 work intervals, there is a 15-minute break. It can be adapted to your own productivity needs, but this work/break pattern is a good place to start.

  1. Take breaks

Even with a self-imposed deadline you must take breaks. Taking a short walk can increase productivity and reduce stress levels. Due to a phenomenon based on ultradian rhythms the human brain is, on average, only able to focus for 90 minutes, and then you need at least 15 minutes of rest to reset your attention span. Even taking a ‘microbreak’ between 30 seconds and 5 minutes can increase mental sharpness by 13%.

  1. Best laid plans…

But when you have a deadline looming you simply have to block off the time to get it done. Close the door to your office, if you can, or find a quiet place to work (working away from your desk also makes it harder for people to find you and signals you don’t want to be disturbed), and turn off your phone and all unnecessary browser windows.

Ultimately, no matter how efficiently we plan to spend our time, be realistic – projects and deadline collapse, money evaporates and customers go AWOL. Some days, best-laid plans need to be adjusted to fit with the unpredictable nature of business. But if you manage your time effectively when you are in full control of it, you’re giving yourself the best chance of leaving your desk at 5pm.
Source: Shell Fluid Thinking

Six ways to approach and reduce unplanned employee absenteeism

As a fleet manager, it’s likely you’re all too aware of the huge impact unplanned employee absences can have on your company. At best they give you rescheduling headaches while at worst they lead to a loss of productivity and revenue.

But while you need your business to run effectively, you must handle absence with sensitivity, showing support to those who take frequent sick leave and looking at ways you could help them reduce their time off.

Here are our top tips for managing absenteeism.

1. Create a clear attendance policy

The first step in controlling unplanned absence is having clear-cut company guidelines that are well-communicated and acted upon consistently. This way your drivers will understand how absences will affect them and any repercussions they may have. Employees should also be made aware of the procedure for calling in sick, including having a designated person to talk to and knowing what information is needed, such as a doctor’s note. The policy should include information on what an employee needs to do on returning to work, such as having a return-to-work meeting.

2. Monitor absenteeism

Whether you prefer the traditional pen and paper approach or choose to invest in specialist software, you should keep track of all absenteeism in a spreadsheet, logging any notes and official medical documentation. Being able to review the number of absences among your drivers along with their reasons for them will help give you a sense of how to approach the situation should regular sick leave with any one employee become an issue.

3. Manage the problem

If you notice an employee regularly calling in sick you need to talk to that driver in person. Approach them conversationally not confrontationally in order to discuss what’s behind their absence, and work out possible solutions or ways to manage it. Regardless of whether that person has genuine recurring health issues or you suspect they’re abusing the sickness policy, sensitivity is imperative. Similarly, check in regularly with employees who are on long-term sick leave, and talk about how you can help them return to work when the time is right.

4. Create a satisfying work culture

As a fleet manager, you have a duty of care to your drivers, so making sure your employees are happy at work should be an important part of your culture. But it also has benefits for your business, including increasing employee motivation and leading to less unplanned days off. It’s something we can all relate to – it’s much easier to roll out of bed every day for a job that gives us satisfaction, at a workplace where we feel appreciated and recognised for what we do.

5. Introduce a wellbeing programme

But remember, a happy workforce is about more than simply paying a fair wage – research shows wellbeing is one of the main factors driving employee satisfaction. It’s no secret that a healthy lifestyle leads to improved physical and mental health, so ensuring your drivers have access to fresh, nutritional food, plenty of opportunities – perhaps even incentives – to exercise, and work schedules that allow for a good work/life balance should not only lead to less employee sickness but also create a more positive, inspiring work environment.

6. Watch for early signs of stress

Stress is a major cause of longterm absenteeism, so try to get on top of it before the solution becomes a six-month layoff. Again, talking to the driver and working out what you can do to help is key. But sometimes, regardless of what wellness programmes you introduce, external emotional and social factors such as relationship problems can be beyond your control. Bupa recommends seeking advice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) and mental health charity Mind, which has a guide to supporting employees with mental health issues.

Source: Shell Fluid Thinking

10 best trucker movies of all time

Whether fighting social injustice from their cab, chasing gangs or – occasionally – playing the villain, filmmakers have long been driven to capture truckers and their four-wheeled side kicks on the silver screen. We take a look at 10 of the best trucker films to see what they tell us about life behind the wheel.

1. Smokey and the Bandit, 1977

Smokey and Bandit poster

Bo “Bandit” Darville is hired by a wealthy Texan to deliver bootleg beer to his home in 24 hours. Driving the truck is Cledus “Snowman” Snow while Bo is at the wheel of a Trans Am that is acting as the blocker vehicle to distract attention from the truck and its illegal load. The journey there is uneventful, but Bo gets himself into trouble on the way back after picking up a woman who was to marry the local sheriff’s son leading to a high speed chase. Meanwhile Snowman in the Kenworth W900A is heading to Atlanta with a truck full of contraband beer. And like any good trucker, nothing is going to stop him delivery his cargo.

2. Convoy, 1978

Convoy movie poster

This is perhaps the ultimate trucker movie that encapsulates life in a rig, where solitude exists alongside a wider trucker community spirit. While driving through the Arizona desert, Martin “Rubber Duck” Penwald (played by Kris Kristofferson) is tricked by crooked cop Sheriff Lyle “Cottonmouth” Wallace. This encounter is the latest in Rubber Duck and Cottonmouth’s antagonistic history and forces Rubber Duck on the run. He soon becomes a symbol of the ordinary working man versus the establishment, and as news of his unfair treatment at the hands of a bent copper spreads over the CB airwaves, truckers join a convoy in support that eventually grows to a mile-long.

3. Big Trouble in Little China, 1986

Big Trouble In Little China movie poster

Jack Burton is an all-American trucker who likes to chat to other truckers on the CB radio on his long drives from the cab of his “Porkchop Express”, a 1985 Freightliner FLC-120. But his uneventful life suddenly takes a bumpy road when he gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in San Francisco’s Chinatown after his friend’s fiancée Suzee Pai is kidnapped. After a wild chase in his truck through the streets of San Francisco, Jack discovers that the girl has been abducted by the ghost of a 3000-year-old warlord. Protected only by his wits and ever-present white vest, Jack fights off the spirits and gets the girl – giving him plenty to talk about over the CB radio.

4.  Duel, 1971

Duel movie poster

Steven Spielberg’s first full-length film, Duel is thick with tension where the enemy is largely unseen – think Jaws with a truck. It’s 1971 and travelling salesman David Mann is being chased through the Californian desert by a 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker. We see nothing of the driver apart from his feet and arm which adds to the sinister atmosphere that sees the mild mannered Weaver pitted against a mechanical enemy with seemingly no motive. The film was based on a short story by Richard Matheson who was inspired by a real-life experience in when he was tailgated by a trucker on his way home from a golfing match, one stereotype lorry drivers would like to park.

5. Maximum Overdrive, 1986

Maximum Overdrive movie poster

Based on Stephen King’s short story Trucks, the film was also directed by the king of horror.  Soundtracked by AC/DC, Maximum Overdrive tells of a nightmare future where the machines – including some particularly ruthless trucks, rise up against the humans, mowing down anyone who gets in their way. Bill Robinson (played by Emilio Estevez) leads the fight back and destroys the deadly trunks with minds of their own with a convenient rocket.

6. White Line Fever, 1975

White Line Fever movie poster

The 1970s was the heyday of trucker films and White Line Fever rode the trend with turbo charged gusto. Fresh off the plane from fighting in Vietnam, Carrol Jo buys a 1974 Ford WT9000 rig with a view to working at the same firm his late father. But CJ learns that the company’s gone rogue and is now dealing in illegal goods. Worse, the company has a stronghold in the town and the cops onside. But CJ is not content to let corruption win and sets out to fight the illegal stronghold, nearly sacrificing his life in a tense showdown for the greater trucker good.

7. Joyride, 2011

Joy Ride Movie Poster

University student Lewis and his brother Fuller – who’s just been released on bail – are driving home in a 1971 Chrysler Newport. En route Fuller buys a CB radio and to amuse themselves on the long road trip play a prank over the radio on a trucker called Rusty Nail. Rusty Nail – perhaps unsurprisingly with a name like that – does not see the funny side and is soon on their tail, chasing them through the night with increasing menace. The moral of the tale? Never mess with the truckers’ best friend – the CB radio.

8. Over The Top, 1987

Over The Top movie poster

Sylvester Stallone and his mighty biceps star as Lincoln Hawk, a trucker on a mission to win back the love of the son he abandoned 10 years before and triumph at the World Arm Wrestling Championships. Dreaming of starting his own trucking business, he is hoping to arm wrestle his way to the grand prize – a $100,000, a custom semi-truck and the respect of his son, Michael. Lincoln and Michael have a long and bumpy road to travel as they attempt to patch things up especially as Michael’s grandfather is trying to sabotage their relationship. Will Lincoln get to swap his rusty old rig for a custom built model and ride off into the sunset as his own boss?

9. Black Dog, 1998

Black Dog movie poster

If Hollywood is to be believed, it’s the truck drivers fate to be forced into carrying illegal cargo. Patrick Swayze’s ex-con trucker Jack Crews is no exception. He’s just been released from prison for killing a motorist and passenger and has no license. He’s offered a wad of cash to drive a cargo of toilets from Atlanta to New Jersey, and, at the risk of flushing his future away, he reluctantly agrees. Naturally the road to Georgia isn’t smooth and he’s pursued by the FBI (who Crews eventually works with) and Meat Loaf, a bad guy who’s determined to hijack the load – which turns out not to be toilets, but illegal guns.

10. Big Rig, 2008

Big Rig movie poster

A world away from police chases, bootleg cargo and Chinese sorcerers, is Doug Pray’s documentary film highlighting the realities of life as a trucker. Initially the truck drivers he meets over the course of four two-week trips through 45 states, are suspicious of this stranger in their pack, but once they trust Pray, they are happy to talk about rising fuel costs, driving the American economy, balancing family life with anti-social hours, the solitude and the kinship of the greater trucker community. 

Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

5 ways to manage a multi-generational workforce

We’re living and working longer than ever which means that our workforce can now theoretically cover four generations.

Each one comes with its own benefits and the challenge is to play to the strengths of the various age groups and adopt a more agile and inclusive management approach.

Experts predict that by 2020, millennials (roughly those born between 1981 and 1995) will make up 35% of the global workforce and Generation Z (1996 to 2012) another quarter (24%).

In other words, more than half the entire workforce population around the world will be made up by younger workers. However, that still leaves a lot of older people, many of whom will continue to work into their 70s. This group includes Generation X (1965 to 1980) and Baby boomers (1946 to 1964).

This kind of age range presents challenges for employers, and as a fleet manager you should be able to deal with their various needs and expectations.

Transport and haulage firms say they are finding it harder to recruit young people to fill the places of those who are retiring, with the cost of training, stricter safety standards and a lack of glamour being blamed for the skills shortage.

A Freight Transport Association (FTA) report in October 2016 estimated that there’s a national shortage of 34,567 Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) drivers.

The average age of lorry drivers has risen from 45 in 2001 to 48 in 2016, says the FTA – and just 2% of employed drivers are under 25, compared to 10% of the working population.

Unlike most office-based workplaces, there are specific issues that affect fleets – whether employees are driving company cars, delivery vans or Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGVs).

Here are five tips for managing multi-generations:

1) Tackle wellbeing for all ages

It’s more important than ever for fleet managers to consider driver wellbeing. Driver retention is one of the most pressing issues currently facing the UK transport industry, along with the shortage of younger recruits. Hanging onto experienced and capable drivers is one challenge, as is recruiting new entrants as older drivers retire or leave to pursue different careers.

Businesses that provide supportive frameworks to cater for the needs of a multi-generational workforce will thrive, attracting, retaining and developing talent of all ages.

As a fleet manager you have a duty of care to your workforce and it’s essential to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees at work, whilst encouraging drivers to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing outside work too through education and encouraging better lifestyle habits.

There are various ways to tackle these issues in the workplace:

  • Organise training and/or sessions in stress management and mental health awareness. Find ways to encourage employees of all ages to exercise and eat more healthily
  • Run surveys to find out how engaged your workforce is and find out if they have any issues which might affect them both mentally and physically
  • Learn to spot signs in staff members who may be struggling. For instance, stress often carries physical signs, just like colds and flu, and these might include mood swings and food cravings (link to 10 signs of stress)
  • Lead by example. Show that you take workplace wellbeing seriously by getting fit and eating healthily yourself. This also applies to being proactive in joining training sessions

The concerns and needs of different age groups can differ. For example, as employees get older, their focus often moves from career progression to work-life balance.

2) Know your employees

Study the demographics of your current workforce and work out how this may change in the future. Ask your employees to fill in a simple online survey to find out how they feel about their job and their aspirations. Answers may differ from generation to generation, but it’s widely believed that millennials, for instance, actually want very similar things to other age groups. In other words – respect, a desire for feedback, career opportunities and a work-life balance.

3) Implement an imaginative training strategy

Millennials are the first generation to enter the workplace having been exposed to technology from a young age, and they are therefore accustomed to the efficiencies that it can offer – both in their personal and professional lives. New technologies such as telematics, which monitor everything from vehicle fuel economy and driving behaviour to automated driver time sheets, are not remotely frightening to them.

However, as a fleet manager it’s important to keep pace with technology and offer training and ongoing vocational programmes so that no-one is left behind, whatever their age. Also, the training should appeal to all learning styles with a combination of traditional classroom/paper-based and online/computers to please everybody.

Taking training seriously should also lead to a loyal working culture and reduce turnover.

4) Encourage collaboration and mentoring

Enable cross-generational mentoring where younger employees can teach older ones how to use new technology, for instance, while older generations can provide mentoring regarding interpersonal skills and communication. Different generations have much to learn from each other and to offer each other.

Encourage your team to work together and embrace the qualities they share – not what divides them. Stop talking about generational differences and ages – instead focus on people as individuals.

5) Embrace flexible working

We live in a so-called “gig economy” where many people work on-demand as freelance or independent consultants without long-term employment contracts for more of a work-life balance.

This approach may not work for all companies, but there may be a space for a proportion of employees to choose this style of working. It could work for younger employees used to today’s working environment, or for older workers who might prefer to work in a different way. Every generation has its own priorities such as buying a first home, having children, saving for retirement, spending time with grandchildren and having to care for loved ones.

Many haulage fleets already utilise this style of work by allowing drivers to have flexible schedules – for instance, choosing between local or long-distance hauls.

And here’s one final thought. Recent research by McDonald’s in the UK has revealed that people working in a multi-generational environment tend to be 10% happier.

In a survey of 32,000 of the restaurant chain’s employees (aged 16-91), those who worked with a cross-section of ages showed a 10% increase in happiness levels compared with those who worked with a peer group of similar age.
Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell