One of the longest running issues in the trucking industry surrounds the topic of driver retention. What are the secrets of keeping your best drivers? Why do drivers leave a company? There are many answers to these questions, some of which apply to individual situations while others are perennial and impact all trucking companies. Several issues and strategies that apply to all trucking companies are addressed below and are a starting point in beginning an examination of why drivers may be leaving your company at a higher rate than you would prefer.
Before examining each of the 10 issues, it is essential to understand two initial issues:
First: how to calculate driver turnover. Second: understanding the difference between constructive turnover and destructive turnover. A company should calculate its driver turnover at least annually, and better yet more often such as quarterly or monthly. The formula is relatively simple:
(Number of drivers who have left during the year divided by average number of driver positions available.)
A driver turnover rate of over 100% means that more drivers left the company than there were driver positions.
Constructive turnover is driver turnover that is initiated by the company in an effort to improve the quality of the driver pool. Drivers in this category do not leave of their own accord. These are drivers who may be discharged for safety reasons or for violating company policy, or for a lack of acceptable customer service skills or for any number of other reasons. This type of turnover is relatively unavoidable and somewhat expected over time.
Destructive driver turnover is turnover that is initiated by the driver due to dissatisfaction. These are drivers who are leaving the company that you would prefer not to leave. It is destructive because it leads to additional costs and other problems. Drivers may leave for a number of reasons such as pay, lack of home-time, or equipment concerns. When devising driver retention strategies it is these drivers who a company is targeting in an effort to keep them.
An in-depth look at constructive turnover reveals several common reasons that drivers leave a company voluntarily, as well as strategies that will improve the odds of a driver staying with a company. These reasons can be separated into two categories:
First: These issues which initially attracted the driver to your company and where they will be the quickest to choose to leave if their expectations are not being met:
1. Driver pay. A primary incentive that attracts a driver to a company and possibly the number one reason that a driver will leave a company if their expectations are not being met. To keep drivers a company does not need to be the best paying outfit around but the driver pay must be fair and be reasonably in-line with what other area/segment companies are paying. Also, ensure you are meeting your drivers’ expectations as far as miles, as for many drivers there is a direct correlation between miles and income.
Strategy: Do a wage survey to find out what other companies are paying their drivers and make adjustments as necessary. Listen carefully to what your drivers are saying with regard to this issue.
2. Health/retirement benefits. Another top reason that attracts drivers to a company, especially those with families. Again, the benefits do not have to be the best around but they should be comparable to other area companies.
Strategy: Companies should examine their health/retirement benefits and ensure they are meeting driver needs.
3. Home-time: All drivers have some expectation of when and for how long they will be able to spend time at home. Many of these expectations are addressed at the time of hire. It is during the first few months of employment where a driver will strongly evaluate whether the company is meeting these expectations.
Strategy: Ensure that all operations personnel are aware of the importance of meeting driver expectations in this area and strive to make this a non-issue in the company. A single experience where a driver missed a family event is enough in many cases to convince the driver that this company is not the place to be.
4. Equipment: Similar to pay and benefits, this is an area that attracts a driver to the company initially. Clean, modern and safe equipment is what drivers are looking for. Older equipment that breaks down a lot is what will drive them away because this impacts directly on their income and possible home-time. Also, this is an area where many companies truly differentiate themselves from everyone else. Driver amenities such as satellite radio and customized sleeper berths really are things that drivers value.
Strategy: Keep equipment well maintained, and keep this issue in front of management/ownership as a top driver issue that affects driver retention.
5. Driver Treatment: Drivers don’t expect to be treated like kings but they won’t tolerate being treated like serfs either. Similar to home-time, a single bad experience in this area is enough for a driver to make the decision to leave. Companies with low driver turnover realize this and everyone at the company treats each other with a high level of respect. Drivers can come into the office and discuss just about any issue in a professional manner. Drivers don’t expect that every single issue be decided in their favor but they will have a healthy respect for the organization that listens to their concerns.
Strategy: Recognize your company’s culture in this area and work to improve it if the company does not have a culture of personal respect.
Second, the issues that, although not primary reasons the driver was attracted to the company, are of significant importance in keeping a valued driver with the company. These are the areas where a driver will choose to stay with the company if they can be made to recognize the value as well as what they will lose if they leave the company.
6. Bonus pay and other incentives: Drivers do a lot more than just drive a truck. They are required to do a thorough pre-trip inspection, keep a clean and legal logbook, and may do extra work such as tarping and load/unload. Do your drivers have to wait for an excessive amount of time in the loading/unloading process? Remember, time equal money in a driver’s eyes. In many cases the amount of effort a driver puts in makes a direct impact on company measureables, such as CSA scores. Many companies pay the drivers for these efforts and the time involved and many do not. A driver knows what companies pay and which ones don’t.
In addition to monetary incentives, many drivers appreciate recognition for safety and other achievements. Annual and milestone safety awards as well as programs such as Driver of the Year can yield excellent results in morale and retention.
Strategy: Ensure that your comprehensive compensation strategy includes compensation for all of the work and time that drivers put in on the job. Look for ways to recognize your drivers for their safety achievements and other exemplary work behaviors.
7. Driver Training and Development: Drivers, just like most workers, are interested in their level of skill and knowledge and want to become better at what they do. With all of the varied issues involved in trucking there is no shortage of areas from which a company can choose to offer training and development. Issues range from FMCSA regulations to the CSA program, to defensive driving to specialized industry training topics.
Strategy: A company that recognizes the importance of driver development and offers training to their drivers will benefit not only from a better trained workforce, but from lower driver turnover.
8. Advancement within the company. While many drivers won’t have the desire or ambition to move up within the company, there will always be some who will. Many safety managers and dispatchers got their start as drivers. Or, possibly a driver is looking to become a mentor/trainer within the organization for newer drivers.
Strategy: Always be on the lookout for drivers who express a desire to learn more about the company’s internals and who may be candidates for staff or training positions.
Finally, there are 2 other strategies that companies can consider in their efforts to improve driver retention:
9. Develop and maintain high hiring standards. Resist the temptation to lower these standards in an effort to fill seats. A driver with a marginal safety record, un-related or limited experience or several jobs in the past couple of years is not likely to last with you either, no matter how hard you try.
10. Have a practice/policy of no-rehire or limited rehire. For example, if a driver leaves voluntarily they won’t be considered for rehire for at least a year. Or, if they leave a second time they will not be eligible for rehire. Partly due to the high-profile recruiting tactics many companies use, drivers may start to believe that a driving job is just a commodity where they can leave a company and come back anytime they choose.
Leo Hughes, CDS, ARM, AIS
Sr. Safety Representative
Great West Casualty Company