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How to reduce the symptoms of driver turnover

April 27, 2022
Keeping a consistent driver pool can lead to better business performance.

Driver turnover is an indicator of a broader problem in the industry. It’s a symptom that can manifest itself in poor fleet performance, such as out-of-service violations during roadside inspections, hours-of-service and safety challenges, and failure to meet delivery time commitments, noted Tom MacCallum, IAT Insurance Group’s VP of loss control.

“The more consistent the driver pool, the better performance over time on some of those other indicators about the quality of the carrier,” MacCallum told FleetOwner.

From an insurance perspective, a consistent driver pool is a telling fleet performance indicator and often determines how underwriters approach carriers. In a new e-book, IAT Insurance has compiled strategies to improve both driver recruiting and retention efforts.

“It’s not uncommon for us to visit one of our policyholders and there will be two or three idle power units out of 10,” MacCallum said. “That’s revenue that business is not making, and it’s because they can’t put qualified drivers behind the wheel. There is no easy solution here; it’s going to take several different strategies to make sure these fleet operators are operating at peak efficiency.”

See also: Driver apprenticeships prove effective, but …

Another key factor in reducing those symptoms of turnover is the role of a carrier's human resources (HR) department. HR plays a more obvious part in recruiting drivers, but a good HR department also can improve driver retention.

Mark Murrell, president of CarriersEdge, and Dirk Kupar, CEO of TruckRight, explain that an effective HR approach requires focused attention to meet drivers’ needs. Fleet managers should also take note that retention is not a single person or one-department job.

Recruit to retain

In its ebook, IAT references the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP), which provides access to commercial drivers’ five-year crash and three-year inspection history.

According to IAT, trucking companies using PSPs to screen job applicants have been documented to lower their crash rate an average of 8% and driver out-of-service rates by 17%. For midsize carriers, the crash rate decrease was even more significant: 20.6% for motor carriers with six to 20 drivers and 12.1% for carriers with 21 to 100 drivers, IAT added.

“Carriers get into trouble when they feel the pressure of having to put a driver into a seat and they don’t do an effective job of screening that driver for their experience and looking at their performance,” MacCallum told FleetOwner

“The other thing that provides a challenge is we are seeing carriers that are willing to hire someone they don’t see on a regular basis, and they don’t have an opportunity to develop a relationship with that driver,” he added. “It’s critical that the driver feel valued and having a relationship with leadership is very important.”

See also: What do drivers really want? Ask them.

For TruckRight’s Kupar, several fleets that once spent money on marketing to improve their driver numbers, now are considering additional investments in retention strategies.

“I’ve talked to owners who survey their drivers to find which customers they don't want to go to as a retention measure,” Kupar said. “Others keep a profile on the driver and refer to it while they're talking to them so that they know where the driver is coming from on a personal level.”

In the last two years, many HR departments really had no choice but to become more flexible. Because of the pandemic, there has been a drive to implement progressive tools and strategies that accommodate the mobile workforce, whether it’s online training or a driver-focused HR system, Kupar pointed out.  

According to Murrell, looking at similarities with the mobile workforce outside of trucking also can offer solutions for fleets seeking to expand HR. A truck driver, for instance, shares commonalities with a traveling consultant, a sales rep out on the road, or a tech person who's working from home.

Ultimately, it all fits into the broader HR role of making the workplace experience better for truckers, Murrell explained.

“Sometimes it's equipment, like a different configuration of the sleeper berth,” he said. “Other times it's a policy matter or changing the way people communicate. Overall, there are a lot more options available now than there were a couple of years ago.”

Safety and support

When it comes to equipment safety and maintenance, IAT’s MacCallum said two core principals come to mind. The first is driver responsibility, meaning effective pre- and post-trip inspections that result in fewer unplanned maintenance incidents and roadside violations.

The other piece is the age of equipment.

“We still see carriers out there that are operating pre-1995 power units because of environmental rules,” MacCallum said. “Those are vehicles with a lot of wear and tear on them. Whenever we come across those carriers, we are very focused on making sure they have an effective maintenance and inspection program in place. It becomes a little more difficult when it’s an owner-operator, but technology is providing new avenues for driver managers to address that.”

In addition to safety, employee satisfaction is tied to initiatives that focus on the driver as an individual and provide immediate support and response to driver concerns, according to IAT.

But accidents do happen. And when they do, Murrell stressed that an employer must have a strategy to appear diligent in court.

“Don't assume that just having safety policies in place means you are good,” Murrell said. “You need to revisit them and make sure any issues are being addressed, and drivers are doing what you need them to. When the plaintiff's attorney starts asking questions, and you can say you run through results on a quarterly basis, looked at your biggest issues, have a team in place to review them, and work with people to close the gaps, you suddenly start to look like a diligent employer.”

“From a fleet's perspective, you can quickly analyze where your strengths and weaknesses are, what parts of the onboarding process aren't working well enough, and fix them,” Murrell added. “Sometimes drivers wash out because they were unsurprisingly not qualified enough to begin with. But other times, people actually work hard at training. There's definite value in continuing to look at data, run reports, and use all available information.”

Benefits and outcome-based incentives

Proper pay and compensation go a long way in keeping valuable employees in any industry. In trucking, today’s carrier-friendly freight rate structures are giving companies better opportunities to pay their drivers more.

But driver retention isn’t all about pay.

In addition to traditional benefits like medical or retirement, IAT points to voluntary benefits that may sweeten the deal for truckers—items like fuel card discount programs, telemedicine access (i.e., virtual doctor appointments), short- and long-term disability, and critical illness and life insurance.

“The best fleet operators we see truly work from a point of partnership—especially with their independent drivers—making sure that if they’ve got a good pool of drivers in their organization, they are doing everything to keep them employed,” MacCallum said. 

See also: Recruiting and retention in trucking: A continuous engagement

IAT also indicated that outcome-based incentives and rewards can be used as retention tactics. Take one of IAT’s fleet customers in the Central Plains area, for instance. The carrier buys new tires for its owner-operators if they perform and adhere to certain levels of safety and operations.

“That has probably been one of the more effective retention tools, quite frankly, from what we’ve seen,” MacCallum said. “It has made a major impact with the owner-operators.”

Taking it a step further, MacCallum has also seen fleets give drivers “experience rewards,” meaning instead of a classic gift card or other tangible goods, carriers will reward their drivers with a night out or shopping experience with their spouse. The key, MacCallum noted, is to choose rewards drivers will find valuable and set a schedule to offer the rewards, so drivers see immediate benefits from their hard work.

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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