Driver Retention Strategies: 3 Tips for Effective Driver Communication

Without drivers, there ain't going to be a trucking business to grow.

Without drivers, there ain't going to be a trucking business to grow.

Driver Retention is a serious problem.

If you’re hearing “I quit” enough number of times from your drivers, then you’re in the same league as 1000's of other trucking companies across the country.

There are as many reasons as there are drivers who’re walking out the door. We looked at a lot of those reasons and realized that they are all rooted in one seemingly innocuous beast: Communication.

In this post, we look at  communication can be avoided for the benefit of your company:

1) Establish communication standards between different departments

During a recruiting and retention conference last year, Tom Witt, the then-senior vice president of operations at Smithway Motor Xpress, explained how the difference in personalities of truck drivers and their driver managers caused friction in the workplace.

Driver managers, by design, are expected to be extrovert, and capable of working in a fast-paced environment. Witt said that they work well without structure or guidance, unlike the drivers. However, drivers are a patient lot, unlike their managers. They spend long hours on the road - with no one to talk to.

So, when an aggressive manager – their only connection with the company criticizes or reprimands them – the friction between the two aggravates.

The effect of statements such as: “You didn’t get to the destination on time! Why couldn’t you do the only job assigned to you?” become more pronounced and dramatic. One can routinely hear of such complaints and its aftermath on the many platforms on social media.

Give the ever-increasing demand for drivers, the onus is on the company to establish rules around workplace communication, to reduce such verbal abuse and damages that consequently follow. 

Solution: Mandate all departments that deal with drivers to take an online course on communicating with drivers. Track their completion and evaluate their performance.

Unless drivers see a visible change in the demeanour of their other colleagues, the outflow will continue.

2) Emphasise on following best practices, in a format that appeals to them

In 2016, Ulyssis Gonzales was driving a big rig in California. When the 29-year-old tried to halt for a Stop Sign, he found himself crashing into an unoccupied house. The crash knocked out power lines to more than 140 residents in San Carlos area. The crash was so bad that the truck was essentially lodged inside the house.  

The culprit? Brake failure.

It wasn’t known when Gonzales last had his 18-wheeler inspected; however, it is required by the FMCSA once per year.

This incident shows why it’s crucial for commercial drivers to inspect their vehicles, often. And more importantly, why it's important for the employer to communicate in a way drivers understand.  

If only his company had repeatedly reminded drivers about regular vehicle inspections (instead of just at their onboarding session), the incident could have been avoided.

A combination of inadequate employee onboarding procedures and mounting safety issues routinely steers drivers away from the industry and prevents organizational growth. And when people hear about incidents like that of Ganzales’, their enthusiasm for staying put in the industry fades. 

Solution: Do not wait to remind them about safety procedures until the last minute. Send out reminders on their phones, in the form of images, videos or simple text messages. Reap the benefits of peer learning by sending it out to a group of people, not to individuals. Emphasise it to an extent that complex FMCSA rules become muscle memory.

3) Be open to having conversations around mental health

The long uneventful hours of driving are a rich source of fodder to the driver’s idle mind.

When social isolation contributes to mental exhaustion, they snap. Drivers have, in the past, abandoned their trucks and walked away; some have committed suicide by launching themselves in front of speeding trucks. In fact, some of the drivers that The Atlantic spoke with, admitted to feeling haunted on a scene of a gruesome accident, or terrified when they repeatedly see drivers engage in activities that lead to accidents.

Because of the nature of their job, and their gender disposition (94% male), truck drivers do not seek help as openly as women do.

Which means, the onus is on employers to identify the ones that are on the brink. They should break the ice on this topic: They should keep in touch regularly, offer to talk to them, check for any emotional triggers, and monitor their progress – week after week, for as long as it is required.

Because here’s the truth: Research says that drivers hop across organizations even though they offer the same pay, benefits and home time – because of the perceived organizational support, and their relationship with their leaders.

The onus is on you to talk to them.

Solution: Instead of calling/reaching out to them regularly, send out a survey to all drivers on their phones. Share mental wellness-related posters and snippets with them regularly. The trick is to be non-intrusive, while also being completely aware of their mental struggles.

It is important to remember that communication should not be defined by texts, emails or phone calls. Think of it as a robust process that is designed to pre-empt conflicts and accidents, promote trust, both for the short and long term.      

Noticeboard helps you set up that process, especially to smoothen out communication and management-related problems with dispersed staff. You can train, conduct surveys, broadcast company policies securely, on Noticeboard. You can also have conversations on mental health and deal with enforcement violations privately.

In doing so, you boost employee engagement and improve driver retention, a problem that few in the industry have been able to solve so far.

Take the first step towards it today!