According to the American Trucking Associations, the trucking industry is facing a shortage of 50,000+ truck drivers. Fleet managers can retain good drivers by focusing on driver hometime, good communication, rewarding loyalty, and creating an overall better work environment for them.
If you’re a fleet manager looking for ideas to retain your drivers, you’ll know that a quick Google search on this topic yields 46 million results. Most of the content is just regurgitated information that you probably recognize and maybe even implemented at one point.
Many of the problems surrounding driver retention are mostly about more home time, more money, and updated equipment.
The disconnect lies in what is not recognized—that not only are drivers alone on the road, but they’re often alone within their companies too. Though these men and women are the most independent sort of employees, they are still employees.
Because their situation is unique, without driver leadership and support outside of their main points of contact—dispatch or maintenance managers—the turnover rate for drivers will always remain high.
The problem is that strengthening support in these areas requires full-time devotion and because of that, it oftentimes doesn’t happen.
Here are a few key areas that fleet managers should consider to help with driver retention and overall morale. Focusing on these areas and creating a plan of action can be powerful strategies to retain drivers and improve workplace happiness.
1. Are you addressing the “alone problem” drivers face?
Most businesses have a manager for each department and trucking companies are no different, with the lone exception of drivers.
But why are drivers any different? When a “regular” employee has a rough day, they have the option to talk it through with their manager and then go home and hopefully be able to decompress with their family.
Drivers have none of those options. If they’re on a load and something happens to the truck; they’re physically and mentally stuck. They literally can’t get away from the cause of their frustration. They could already be having issues at home (which is unfortunately common, due to the stresses this job puts on relationships) and now they’re going to be late for the load and their home time is pushed back, and they are literally stuck inside of the thing that caused it all.
2. How much care and concern are you putting towards drivers’ needs?
A dedicated manager could be so valuable here. He/she could potentially step in and have a dispatcher work through a solution (i.e., switching loads with another, more available driver who is willing to help out).
At very least, a caring manager can lend an understanding ear. For a driver to know that they have someone working to help them out might make them feel not so alone on the road and within the company.
3. Are you implementing any innovative ideas for better driver support?
Directly related to this piece of the driver retention puzzle is the support piece.
Here is where a phone support employee assistance program could be really useful. Many drivers have a hard time making and keeping appointments because of the nature of their work.
With a call-in counselor, they wouldn’t have to worry about setting up and trying to make appointments while they’re on the road. This kind of support would also help drivers work through issues they have in their personal life. It could potentially help them to become more confident, happier people in their home lives, which definitely carries over into their professional lives.
4. How about creating a reward system for tenure and loyalty?
Because driver retention is such a big issue and the solution is multifaceted, it would be unfair to completely discredit the 46 million Google search results.
Let’s start with money. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites the median salary for an OTR driver at roughly $42,500/year. Is $42K enough to be paid for people that literally only see their family and friends on random weekends and holidays? Is it enough for the men and women that sacrifice spending time with their partners, or watching their kids grow up?
On top of that, most companies don’t increase per-mile rates for tenure with the company. A 20-year veteran makes the same amount per mile as a brand new driver. Seasoned drivers are often not rewarded for their experience.
So considering a reasonable hike in the salaries of drivers and rewarding them for things like tenure (and even safety) would go a long way in keeping drivers happily employed within the same fleet.
5. Are you viewing drivers as humans or numbers?
Drivers are not just “steering wheel holders.” They make it possible for your business to make money. Regardless of what their family situation at home looks like, most of them would like to see the place they call home on a regular, routine basis.
6. Do your dispatchers have your drivers’ backs?
Having dispatchers that understand and keep physical track of needs then schedule loads accordingly, goes a long way. (i.e., John’s kids have a school play on Thursday night, and this load doesn’t deliver until Wednesday morning. A shorter load might be a better option for him.) A quick-minded and analytical dispatcher can effectively juggle a driver’s needs with freight requirements.
Tip: Create a driver cheat sheet for dispatchers
Drivers need to be regarded as unique and special employees. They sacrifice their lives to do their job, and more effort needs to be put forth to focus on their happiness and well being.
Start with the glaring issues, such as increased salary and home time, and improving driver management and support.
Focus on “people-related” issues
Ultimately, trucking is a people business. Fleet managers need to focus on that aspect and build a work environment in which truckers can feel comfortable in.
WorkHound conducted a survey and asked 8,500 truckers questions about what they want. According to WorkHound’s CEO Max Farrell, a “family atmosphere” work environment was one of the biggest things that stood out in the survey.
The survey also revealed the four most prominent themes that drivers are most concerned with. They are, in order:
To improve the driver retention rate, fleet managers should understand what drivers want—which may not always be about the income that drivers take home at the end of the day.