Stress at work could lead to accidents or worse

Written by
Jo Hemmings

02 Nov 2016

02 Nov 2016 • by Jo Hemmings

Difficult clients, tight deadlines and the boss from hell. Just three of many factors that can cause frustrations to rise in the workplace, resulting in stress, anger and exhaustion. But what kind of effect do these emotions have on our ability drive once the working day is through?

Recent research from suggests jumping behind the wheel with too much on your mind can have a more negative impact on your driving ability than you may think. And with an estimated 13.7m employees hitting the road after a bad day at work, that’s a whole lot of road rage just waiting to be unleashed. 

While over half of drivers (51%) believe their emotional state doesn’t impact on their ability to drive, the recent study reveals that 4.5 million drivers admitted to committing a motoring offence and 3.2 million drivers have had an accident or near miss as a result of their emotions. 

Impact of anger

When tensions flare up at work and we find ourselves feeling angry, our blood pressure can shoot up, and adrenaline and noradrenaline are released. Taking this behind the wheel can be extremely dangerous! 

Physically, a driver’s heart rate will accelerate from a standard 70bpm to a whopping 180bpm when feeling angry. Blood pressure will rise and muscles will tense, especially in the neck and shoulders. A driver’s attention narrows as they focus on the events of their bad day and angry drivers can become very territorial, and lose their patience with others, often seeking revenge that can manifest as rude hand-gestures, dangerous on-road manoeuvres and, in extreme cases, violence. 

If employees are experiencing feelings of anger, especially just before its time for them to head home, it is best to take them aside for at least 30 minutes to calm down. 

Encouraging employees to speak up can make a huge difference. Talk to your staff one-to-one; if you feel they have issues that could be causing them distress, try encourage them to find appropriate help and reassure them you have their best interests at heart. Employees should feel calmer having gotten things off their chest and this should prevent the anger from building up as they head home.

Anger has caused the highest amount of near misses or accidents of any emotion - 992,000 drivers have either crashed or had a near miss as a result of anger. Over half (52%) of Brits admit to speeding over the legal limit due to feeling angry and nearly a third (31%) of accidents and near misses in the UK caused by an emotion are due to anger too.

However, one in six (17%) are caused by exhaustion. 

Driving home tired

Working hard, late night shifts, huge projects or tight deadlines can all cause exhaustion and psychologically employees can experience extreme fatigue, lack of energy, poor attention span and low levels of adrenaline. This of course impacts productivity in the workplace but can also be a huge danger outside of work and on the roads. 

Any extreme emotional feelings can have a dramatic impact on driving ability, but perhaps none so much as exhaustion. Despite all of the warnings across the UK, over a third (35%) of drivers still drive while exhausted, and almost a third (32%) admit to speeding while exhausted in order to get home faster. 

Because of this, they are strictly advised not to drive at all in this state. Not only is cognitive function seriously impaired but reaction times are likely to be slower, unpredictability is an issue and of course falling asleep at the wheel more likely.

Encourage your employees to put off the journey or find another way to get to their destination. If sudden feelings of exhaustion occur while behind the wheel already, pulling over in a safe place will help. 

One in six (17%) accidents which are caused by emotions in the UK are caused by exhaustion and because of this, motorists are encouraged to get out of the car and take a walk, drink plenty of water and have a light snack for energy. When entering the car, make sure the car is well aired, keep the windows open if possible and play music or the radio to stay alert.

A space within the workplace that allows your team to get some much needed down time will work wonders for their state-of-mind – whether it contains arcade games, a library and comfy sofa or a state-of-the-art coffee machine. Monitor your employees working hours, offer flexible working if possible and encourage regular short breaks too.

Battling stress at work

Whether employees are having a hard time hitting sales targets, have had a run-in with their boss or feel overworked/undervalued, chances are they will take this mood with them on the journey home. When we worry or become stressed, our heart rate tends to increase, our muscles become tense and concentration levels can slip. 

When we drive in this state of mind, we’re not always best placed to make appropriate, sensible decisions and often don’t pay attention to other drivers on the road. Drivers experiencing stress can be known to drive erratically, they are more likely to speed, over take or commit other inappropriate driving behaviour. People suffering from stress will often not be aware of the driving behaviour of others and this can be dangerous in itself.

Stress is also known to cause staff absences. Cultivating a more positive workplace can only help to bring that figure down, and make employees more likely to get behind the wheel with a smile on their face – and have a safer journey home. 

Employer responsibility 
While it’s safe to say many employees may bring their personal problems into work with them, employers need to ensure they are not adding to this unnecessarily and encourage a working environment that’s as stress-free as possible. Otherwise staff could be putting themselves and others at risk on the roads.

If you happen to be an employer and sense tensions in your team, there are a number of ways you can help:

•    If you’re experiencing a clash of personalities whether within a team or cross-departmental, arranging a team building day can work wonders for strengthening bonds and creating a more harmonious workforce. 

•    Revaluate your team and their individual roles and targets, and make any necessary changes that work in their favour and yours. Employees who have realistic targets and a clear vision of where they’re going could perform better. 

•    Introduce regular incentives, such as meals out, finish-early Fridays or additional holiday days – survey your team and find out what they’d like to see.