Meet Isaac, Wellbeing Officer, De Bruyn Transport

Isaac, 27, was born into the fifth generation of the family transport business, De Bruyn Transport. From a young age Isaac got his hands dirty loading containers, sweeping floors and painting pallets. In time, Isaac recognised the challenges that come with working in the industry and after experiencing his own mental health struggles, he completed a certificate in counselling. Today, Isaac’s role as Wellbeing Officer focuses on transforming the family business into one that prioritises the mental health of more than three hundred employees and encourages work mates to look out for one another.

Isaac: I grew up around trucks, so becoming a truckie was a given.

My great great grandfather had a barge that he pulled along the canal dikes in Holland to transport sand, gravel and heating fuel – that was the start of our family’s entry into transport. In 1965 my great uncle founded a transport business in Tasmania, and my grandfather and father (who was 14 at the time) migrated to Australia and joined the business.

My Dad took over the business with his brother and cousin the day I was born. My first jobs got me into the yard – loading containers, sweeping floors, painting pallets. As I got older my career evolved. I went from general yard work to warehousing and eventually a rigid truck driver.

Working in transport is not your average eight hours a day. You work long hours, away from home, alone in a truck – it’s tough stuff. You can start your day thinking it will be ten hours of driving, but unexpected road works that are completely out of your control can add two hours onto your trip. On top of that, our timelines are often tight, and clients and customers can be demanding, which adds pressure. Our truckies often have extended periods away from home and family including overnight stays for safety reasons.

It’s not just truckies who face challenges though – there’s a chain reaction on warehouse and management staff. During COVID-19, management were struggling to find new staff and we were working with skeleton crews, which meant the workload was higher and a lot of people experienced burn out. When everyone is under the pump, the ripple effect is obvious – tension is high because customers are experiencing delays, and staff make more mistakes because they’re rushing to meet demand.

The work we do can be a matter of life or death. We’re playing with heavy-duty machinery and we’re on the road for long periods, so being mentally switched on is important for our safety and our mental health contributes to that. For me, the tell-tale signs a work mate isn’t doing well is when they suddenly have a short fuse, their attention is elsewhere or there’s a shift in their attitude. You get to know one another well because you spend a fair bit of time together, so little things like the way they’re talking to other people can be enough to realise they’re not OK. It’s remembering that everyone has a story and can be fighting different battles, no matter how big or small. Don’t get me wrong though, some people hide their battles well. The fellas who start at 3am – they’re in before management and loaders and they’re back late at night, so they’re seeing less people. That’s why being proactive and regularly checking in with a work mate is so important. 

Even though we can all struggle from time to time, not everyone is comfortable talking about it. Right now, our industry is predominantly males in their late 40s who’ve grown up with an attitude of ‘get stuck in and get it done’ closely followed by ‘suck it up’ when things go south. They work really hard, never take leave and don’t really chat about their personal life. I’m sure everyone can think of at least one bloke who fits this description. But it’s slowly changing, and it needs to. We have younger generations coming into the industry prioritising life outside of work, and as a business we want to support the mental health of staff because we want people to be able to talk openly about where they’re at. We don’t want it to reach crisis point.

Our company has grown significantly over the last ten years and we now have more than three hundred employees and depots in Burnie, Launceston, Devonport, Hobart and Bass Strait Transport in Melbourne. Despite growing into a big business, we always try and maintain that family feel. In both the literal sense (we have brothers, sisters, fathers, daughters, sons and the like from different families working with us) and the level of care we have for one another. We never want to get to the point where staff feel like they’re just a number. That’s where my role as Wellbeing Officer comes in – making sure I’m regularly checking in on staff, upskilling managers in mental health first aid, creating moments for staff to connect and look out for one another, and acknowledging the challenging work everyone does. 

I think the key to creating a culture that makes difficult conversations easy, is trust. And trust needs to be earned. Take me as an example – I’m the Wellbeing Officer of a family business where my Dad is the big boss. I’ve had my own mental health battles as a young bloke, so I understand mental illness, but for staff to feel comfortable speaking to me, they need to trust that what they share with me is private and won’t impact their career. That will take time.  It’s about people being there for people. And some people just need that one person that they can trust.

I know I won’t be everyone’s go to man, and I shouldn’t be. In fact, it’s often better coming from someone you know. We all have the ability to start a conversation with someone we’re worried about. I’ve experienced my own health issues which impacted my energy levels and elevated my anxiety. I felt very alone and misunderstood at work, and because no one checked in with me, they just assumed I was lazy. My Mum was my rock, and it made a huge difference. But if people at work were more aware of the signs and took the time to reach out, it would have made my journey a lot better.

It really is as simple as asking ‘how have you been travelling?’ and being ready to listen. But also, being armed with resources to connect them to further help if they need it, whether it’s a support service, your company EAP, local GP or trusted family and friends.  That’s what we are focusing on at De Bruyn. In an ideal world every one of our three hundred staff will be a safe touchpoint for someone doing it tough, so they get the support they need and don’t fall through the cracks.

If you’re reading this and you’re reminded of someone who hasn’t been themselves lately – just check in. It could change their life.