Trucks at Work
Photo US Department of Defense

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Truck driver satisfaction isn’t all about pay

Recently, the TruckersReport.com – an online “community” of roughly 190,000 truck drivers – recently conducted a detailed analysis of its membership in conjunction with software firm OdinText to find out what big rig operators really like and dislike about their jobs.

Simply put: is good pay and home time enough for a fleet to “satisfy” both seasoned and rookie truck drivers, and thus help keep them long term? Or is something else needed?

I’ll admit that I found the results mapped out in this 58-page report a little surprising.

While veteran drivers – defined in this report as holding a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for five or more years – and those earning higher wages ($50,000 or more annually) were generally “more satisfied with their jobs, money was not the best predictor of satisfaction – pay actually came in fifth.

Across both new and veteran drivers alike, the leading factor behind job satisfaction was the extent to which their employer’s company culture was “family-oriented,” followed by being allotted sufficient time at home.

Conversely, the strongest negative predictor of satisfaction was also not money (characterized as "low pay" in this study) but carelessness, closely followed by untrustworthiness.

Those two topics were related and dealt with issues of forced illegal activity – such as driving more than allowed number of hours – a lack of respect, lack of care for drivers’ work conditions or personal lives, and instances of breach of contract and lies, noted Samuel Elitzer, president of the TruckersReport.com

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

“Obviously, good pay, good home time and good equipment are important,” he told me by phone. “But what we found in this study is that the ‘emotional connection’ is very important. Drivers want to be treated as equals; they want the same respect given to office staff. Politeness, we found, makes a real meaningful difference.”

The study leveraged the data mining software to analyze comments posted to TruckersReport.com discussion boards as well as both structured and unstructured data from member surveys.

The analysis found that more than half of trucking professionals (50.4%) are satisfied with their jobs compared to one-third (29.5%) of truckers who expressed dissatisfaction.

But Tom Anderson, founder and managing partner of OdinText, told me by phone he was a bit surprised by how important “family-owned” or “family-oriented” meant to truck drivers.

“In many industries, being ‘family-owned’ is viewed as a negative due to concerns over nepotism, that there won’t be a chance of advancement,” he explained. “In trucking, though, ‘family-oriented’ is a positive.”

Indeed, it proved interesting to leaf through the “positive comments” from truck drivers and see how often the phrase “they treat me like family” is mentioned.

Yet it’s important to stress here that such “emotive connections” do not trump pay, home time, and good equipment. The study found that one in six drivers mentioned the importance of home time and good equipment in their jobs.

Overall, home time ranked highest for all drivers at 17.7%, followed by good equipment at 17.1% and good pay at 15.5%. Among “less experienced” drivers – those with less than 5 years of CDL experience – good equipment topped the list at 18.6%, followed by home time at 14.5% and good pay at 13.9%. Among more experienced drivers (those with 5 years or more of CDL experience) home time ranked highest at 20.1%, with good equipment at 17.3% and good pay at 16.4%.

Yet Elitzer stressed to me that those are but the “basics” of a truck driver job and that the “satisfaction” component can be critical as to whether they’ll stay with a motor carrier long term.

“Issues like carelessness or rudeness simply make the truck driver’s job harder,” he explained. “They have a really big negative impact, more than many may think they do.”

In many ways, though, his shouldn’t be a surprise. Driving a commercial vehicle is a dangerous job and being respected for safely performing that job day in and day out would seem at least to me the very least motor carriers, shippers and receivers could do.

They better, too, because finding folks willing to pilot big rigs for a living is not going to get any easier in the years ahead.

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