Driver Retention: How to make truck drivers stay

All professionals, including truck drivers need money. But that's not the only reason they show up to work everyday.

All professionals, including truck drivers need money. But that's not the only reason they show up to work everyday.

The American trucking industry is in a Catch-22 situation. On one hand, there's a lot of demand for its services, on the other, there isn't enough manpower to fulfill it.

Employee recruitment drives seem to be a perennial responsibility for owners of trucking firms. If you’re a relatively mid-sized firm, you might think the well-capitalized biggies who offer attractive salaries and additional benefits have a leg up. But guess what? Even the big monies can't seem to stop drivers from jumping ship to another company. 

Irrespective of whether they work in a fancy cubicle or a monster truck  - people don't stay for the money. Driver retention is a function of human connect and the presence of basic facilities at workplace.

Here are six things that make them stay. In the second part of the article we talk about how to flawlessly execute with just the right amount of human intervention.

Effective communication practices

Drivers are social beings who want more than just trip sheets and safety trainings. It's not that companies don't want to talk to their drivers, but there just isn't any time or means to do it effectively. But the truth is, like all employees, drivers need to know that they matter to your organisation. At the end of a long day, they want their work to be acknowledged, want feedback from their peers and higher ups, and want encouragement. 

Here are a few things that you should start thinking about :

  • Are your managers trained to actually be managers, or are they just dispatchers conveying orders at the drivers?

  • Have you recognised a reward that actually matters to your employees?

Your efforts to make drivers feel special could be keeping them apart from feeling like they belong to the team.

Personalised training

Here’s the not so-simple truth: While the management wants to train their drivers to be compliant, safe and healthy,  drivers just want to do their job, earn their pay check, and be done for the day. 

So, the best way to train drivers is not by subjecting them to material they have no use for.

Employee handbooks will only go so far. 

The best way is to identify what they don't know, share relevant information in a timely manner, and supplement it what they already know: This makes them more informed, more aware and more likely to be compliant with FMCSA rules. 

Secondly, nothing can replace the presence of a mentor or a trainer who understands your drivers' attitude. A trainer who them how to deal with on-road incidents - be it with enforcement agencies, or traffic jams, or just simply fatigue, becomes a close confidante, and sometimes even a mentor. 

Find a way for the trainer or someone from the safety department connect with your drivers at a deeper level.  So that when drivers think of leaving, they are confronted with leaving behind a mentor, something they wouldn't be comfortable with. 

Awareness about driver's health

Most truck drivers are forced to eat food on the interstate: eating at deli’s and truck stops where the food has poor nutritional value. According to the CDC, over 30% of truck drivers are obese with a BMI above 30% with 17% of these drivers can be diagnosed with morbid obesity with a BMI of over 40%. The industry has the worst obesity statistics compared to any other industry in the United States.

Companies that educate their drivers about a healthy diet and provide the means for them to eat a healthier meal on a regular basis usually have high driver retention rates. It shows them that even though they're thousands of miles away from the HQ, their manages still care about their well-being. 

In addition to this, one can include more rest stops per trip, a meal allowance, wellness retreats, counseling sessions and other health-oriented benefits to the salary package of a driver. The more you show that you care, the better chances you have of retaining them.

Empathy for their schedules

It is estimated that over 27% of truck drivers sleep less than six hours a day. While that's normal for most of us, it can be very dangerous for those driving on the  interstates. Giving  drivers assurances of day-time only driving can go a long way towards avoiding accidents.

Companies that guarantee anywhere between 7-9 hours to unwind and get a full night’s rest are known to retain more staff than those that carry big orders and provide a higher salary and benefits package.

If that's not possible, then driving awareness about sleep patterns, a need for adequate sleep - can help avoid late-night collisions or fatigue-based accidents. Fewer accidents would translate to fewer voluntary quits. 

Sustaining equal employment opportunities

Just about 6% of truckers are women in the United States. If the ATA is looking at adding 100,000 truckers every year just to replace the retiring truckers, then we need to hire more women. While there is enough intent from all quarters, there is little action: 

We need to solve problems on two front: The first is to encourage them to consider a career in trucking, and the second is to create a safe workspace that lets them sustain in that job.  

For the latter, the operations management protocols for truck companies need to be more inclusive: Adding restrooms, assigning same-gender instructors for long-haul trucking, assigning safe resting places during training are first steps towards ensuring a safe workspace. Setting up systems and processes to accommodate the other gender, including sexual harassment in courses taken in trucking schools is a crucial step towards getting women employees to stay on their job. 

Sketching a career path

Truck drivers need to be focused on the road for over 4,400 hours per year. Without a sense of career progression, drivers are going to be staring at endless stretches of roads, while hitting a dead end in their minds. The lack of purpose soon translates into lack of perspective and demotivates them. Having a path of advancement becomes very important, so they know that they’re working towards a better tomorrow.  

It is also worth noting that truckers who move into management later in their careers are able to manoeuvre logistical problems easily. Introducing management training programs for truckers or distance education programs for truckers can show employees that they can do more than just drive. This dream of a more prestigious role can keep them focused and grounded, and help in driver retention in the long run.

Motivating truck drivers to stick with one company is a huge hurdle, especially since freight forwarding services in the United States are at an all-time high. The door-step delivery mentality has increased the potential for growth within the industry by tenfold. This is a larger problem which can be solved when the ATA, big trucking companies and the truck driver’s union band together to build a more sustainable environment for truck drivers to work in.

Noticeboard can lend you a hand in all of the above strategies, and let you ideate on the finer aspects of running your trucking firm.

We take care of the execution - at a system level, and at an operations level.

In particular, we can

  • Send personalized communication to hundreds of drivers all at once – be it for sharing company updates, quarterly appraisal or performance scorecards.

  • Target trainings to those who need it, track lesson completion, publish quizzes and share scorecards.

  • Send out regular reminders for them to eat healthy and take breaks when they’re feeling down.

  • Identify home-time preferences well-in advance with custom surveys.

  • Sensitize existing workforce on working with women staff.

  • Foster a sense of competition and career progression by recognizing top performers – no matter where they are.

To ensure a feasible and sustainable (important!) model that engages drivers and improves retention, talk to Noticeboard