Turnover Remedies in the Trucking Industry Look Beyond Fleet Payment
The industry has been talking about a driver shortage for what seems like years now, and the issue does not seem to be improving. Fleet managers and owners are tackling the problem in the most comprehensive way they know how, and although it might start with fleet payment and driver compensation, it does not end there.
Fleet management is aware that to recruit and retain drivers, they must first understand the issues that have resulted in the current degree of turnover. Companies are starting to recognize those issues and address them in real ways, and we can look forward to even more focus and improvement to come. Companies such as EFS and WEX are creating systems and software that make the life of a driver easier and payment more reliable. But let’s also look a little deeper at what is not working for drivers.
Top 10 Reasons for Turnover in the Trucking Industry
HDT Truckinginfo.com has done some in-depth research on what is causing the turnover, and we list the primary reasons below. For more details, read the full article here.
1. Low pay and low miles
As you probably would expect, money issues, including rates and getting enough miles, are the top reason drivers leave. Regulations have added to the concern over low miles. However, fleet managers are addressing wages as well as miles. The average pay for a tucker just five years ago was $47,000/year. Today Walmart is offering approximately $87,000/year.
“It’s important we offer competitive rates in a tight industry,” says Rob Newell, vice president of recruiting and retention for Greatwide Logistics. “We’ve got to remain competitive to attract labor from other markets and attract people into the profession.”
2. Work/life balance
This one won’t surprise anyone, but it is a more complex issue than simply “not enough home time.” Strategic Programs found that some drivers complained that time at home was too infrequent, but others focused on the unpredictability of time at home – or that when they did get home, they didn’t get to stay long enough.
Part of satisfying drivers in this area starts in the recruiting process. “If they live in Montana, and your lanes are between Detroit and Laredo, it’s not going to happen,” said then president and COO of Celadon, Tom Glaser, during a recruiting and retention conference last year. “Pay attention to your hiring area and where you drive your trucks up and down the road. Hiring area and freight density play an important part in getting those drivers home.” The unpredictability of home time is the main reason drivers leave Maverick, says Darius Cooper, vice president of operations: “While we try to get every driver home for a minimum of 34 hours each weekend, it is still unpredictable.”
Fleet managers at Schneider have implemented a program called Home Run. A group of three drivers is assigned to two trucks. Each driver works two weeks on, one week off. They’ll be home 17 weeks out of the year and know which weeks those are going to be. Schneider fleet managers are also expanding a program that allows drivers to schedule their home time in advance using an online calendar. Other changes in Schneider’s dispatch system mean nearly two-thirds of the company’s drivers get home daily or weekly.
3. Interpersonal issues and relationships
“People don’t leave companies, people leave people,” says Greatwide’s Newell. For drivers, their supervisor is their dispatcher or fleet manager, their primary point of contact with the company. The very nature of drivers’ and dispatchers’ jobs renders this relationship fraught with potential problems.
“When you look at the behavioral profile of a driver and a fleet manager, they’re opposed,” says Tom Witt, former senior vice president of operations at Smithway Motor Xpress. “Driver managers are extroverted, work in a fast-paced environment, and work well without structure or guidance. Drivers are very patient. They spend a lot of time in the truck by themselves, they don’t receive criticism well, and they need a lot of structure in their environment. What seems to be the disconnect is the way the message is delivered from the fleet manager to the driver. There are companies that offer employee profiling services to help better match drivers to dispatchers.”
“Beyond issues like pay and home time, it’s all about relationships,” Newell says. That’s why Greatwide is developing what it calls a Driver Relationship Management Initiative, focused on training fleet managers. They also are developing technology that will make the dispatching chores less time-intensive and give the driver managers more time to interact with the drivers.
“It’s about knowing them by name – they’re not a truck and a trailer, they’re a person,” Newell says. “They’re a father, a mother, a brother, a son, and we need to get to know them. We need to congratulate them on a company achievement or if their son won the Little League championship game. That’s what relationships are all about.”
CFI uses fleet manager evaluations, which ask drivers to evaluate their supervisors and offer suggestions for improvement. “It helps the fleet manager see things from the drivers’ perspective, and perhaps alter how they approach implementation of new concepts,” says president and CEO Herb Schmidt.
One common complaint Strategic Programs hears from drivers is that their fleet manager does not value their ideas and suggestions. Drivers want to feel like part of the company, and having their ideas taken seriously by their dispatcher can go a long way toward supporting a feeling of inclusion.
“Don’t forget the importance of other people the driver comes in contact with as well – payroll, safety and compliance, mechanics, and so forth. There are a variety of interaction points within an organization, and every conversation that anyone has is an opportunity to retain or to lose the driver.” Jim DePillo, 20-year trucking veteran and co-author with Stan Poduch of the book “True Stories of Driver Turnover: Translating the Driver’s Perspective.”
4. I’m not happy with the way I’m dispatched.
Beyond the relationship with the dispatcher, a driver has many opportunities for dissatisfaction with the dispatching and scheduling itself.
One common complaint is unpaid wait time at the customer. At Dart, says Joyce Jordan, COO of the Dallas Operating Center, “we are able to look at the average loading and unloading time by shipper and consignee, and have made a concerted effort to have our salespeople talk to the customers and consignees individually to try to resolve the problem. If a driver is delayed, we will pay him or her for waiting time after a certain limit.”
Other complaints include being stranded far from home without a load, bad directions on how to get to a shipper or consignee, bad information on where to pick up a trailer, having to drive in New York City, and so forth. Some of these issues can be addressed with computer technology that helps dispatch drivers more effectively and can provide turn-by-turn directions right in the cab.
5. I was set up for failure.
This means there are conditions that come with the job, hours of service and other regulations, and company policies that make it impossible for the driver to succeed – drivers feel it’s a no-win situation.
A smart company tries to set drivers up for success, rather than failure. At Greatwide Logistics, for example, which is a primarily owner-operator company, fleet managers try to offer their contractors help in running their business, from discounts on things such as fuel and tires and auxiliary power units, to business-consulting services. Trucking veteran, Jim DePillo suggests, “Companies offer different pay packages, but drivers probably could find a way to increase their pay with their existing company without having to move, if they understood a little more in terms of how they can maximize their opportunities.”
6. This isn’t what I expected.
The recruiting and orientation process, as well as the first two to three months on the job, can quickly push a driver back out the door. Driver complaints that life as a driver was not what they expected, or that their recruiter lied to them, are common.
Trucking recruiters, as a group, have an unfortunate reputation for luring drivers with unrealistic claims. One of the best things companies can do is make sure the recruiting process isn’t setting up expectations that can’t be met.
“One of the biggest problems drivers have in the industry is that they don’t trust any of us.” — Tom Glaser, former president and COO, Celadon Group
Dart Transit has the recruiter sit down with each driver to review specifics and expectations. Joyce Jordan, COO of the Dallas Operating Center, says, “The last thing that happens is, he meets with his contractor fleet manager and we go through an expectation exchange – a formal document the fleet manager refers to. We try to make it conversational, and we cover what their expectations are. If a driver says the recruiter told him he can expect 3,500 miles a week, then we invite the recruiter to come into that exchange and deal with it right then.” Recruiting manager, Brand Vaughn agrees and suggests that a recruiter sit down with the driver to ensure he or she has a complete understanding of the job, solving any problems up front before larger issues develop.
Pay close attention to the first 60 to 90 days. Craig Transport, for instance, uses a mentor program, where someone follows up with the driver in a week and again in a month to see how he is doing.
7. I have problems with equipment or maintenance.
You see a lot about spec’ing tractors to attract drivers, but the condition and maintenance of the equipment – both tractors and trailers – can push drivers out the door.
Maintenance procedures are a potential problem area. “Some companies plan the maintenance rather efficiently, where the driver could use the time for personal time while the truck is being fixed,” Rim Yurkus, CEO of Strategic Programs Inc., a Denver, Colorado turnover consulting firm, explains. “At other companies, the driver’s waiting around half a day for their truck to be fixed” – and likely spending that time thinking about all the other irritating things about his job.
You also need to consider how the driver and the technician relate to each other. Drivers who report problems during their pre-trip inspection and then find they weren’t fixed before heading out on the road are going to get the message that the company doesn’t care about their comfort or safety.
There has always been an adversarial relationship between drivers and mechanics. Technicians think drivers tear up the truck, and drivers say mechanics never get it fixed right. While procedures need to be in place to prevent drivers from wasting technicians’ time, at the same time, technicians need to appreciate the importance that seemingly minor problems can have for drivers.
They need to understand that the truck is essentially the driver’s home. If you have a squeak in your car and you drive it only an hour a day, it’s not a big deal. But if you live in that vehicle, it’s different. Educate both drivers and technicians about each other’s job, whether it’s in a formal training program or one on one.
8. There are no opportunities for me to advance.
This doesn’t necessarily mean being promoted out of the truck into dispatch. Some drivers may be looking for that opportunity, but others prefer being behind the wheel to being behind a desk.
You need to have some way of rewarding drivers who stay with the company, some form of seniority. Even if they don’t take advantage of it, it gives them the feeling that the future holds something better, that they have career options. “That’s critical for retention. If there are rewards for seniority, someone who’s having a bad day will think twice about having to start over with a new company,” says, Yurkus.
9. The company doesn’t communicate with me.
Communication with the driver should not be limited to his relationship with his dispatcher. If a driver feels isolated and neglected, he’s going to be more likely to leave.
Communication could be as simple as an article from the president in the company newsletter, explaining why the market is soft right now and what economists are saying about prospects for the next quarter. “It makes drivers feel like they’re on the inside, that they’ve got a common problem and a mutual goal,” Yurkus says. “If drivers don’t have enough communication, they will fill in the blanks – they will assign negative motives to what they don’t have information on.”
Of course, communication with the company goes both ways. At CFI, says Schmidt, whenever the company considers making changes that could affect drivers, management seeks input from drivers – and in most cases bases the final decision on that input.
10. I’m not appreciated.
Driver appreciation needs to go beyond the usual Driver of the Month or Driver Appreciation Week activities – it needs to be part of the culture of the company.
“Drivers want to be a part of something,” says Greatwide’s Newell. “They want to feel like they matter, that their opinion matters, that their feedback somehow has an effect on making things better in the company they work for.”
One surprising thing Strategic Programs found was that drivers crave positive feedback from customers. “One thing we have seen is these people tend to respond very well to positive reinforcement,” Yurkus says. “They get a lot of criticism; they get a lot of feedback when they do something wrong. I walk into customers’ offices and see lobbies full of awards, but drivers say, ‘I never get any feedback on customer satisfaction.’ “
“That’s one of the issues that really surprised us at Smithway,” says Witt. “We do exit surveys, and that was a key issue that came up – these guys wanted to hear how they were performing for our customers. When you think about it, they usually just hear the negative stuff – when they didn’t deliver on time or damaged a load.”
What has become clear for fleet managers and owners alike is that company culture matters. A bigger paycheck is not enough anymore. Drivers need connection and inclusion. They need to feel respected through communication and attention to mechanical needs as well as scheduling issues or delays. They also want to be home with their families for the important moments and are attracted to companies that can enable that. So along with most employees in the world today, drivers are finding that they have some control over their choices and that corporate responsibility is shifting to include what the individual employee cares about. Thankfully, as the proof points above have communicated, the trucking industry is listening and changing.