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HR experts: To retain drivers, ask them how

June 29, 2022
Because of high turnover, driver retention has become as important as recruitment. Two panelists during a TCA presentation detail how using driver feedback can encourage loyalty among employees.

With a chronic driver shortage and turnover rates as high as 90% in the long-haul segment, fleets need all the help they can get to retain drivers.

“We talk a lot about analysis paralysis, where companies have so many things that could be changed, that nothing gets changed,” said Max Farrell, co-founder and CEO of WorkHound, during a June 28 Truckload Carriers Association webinar. “Carriers often spend a lot of time in that paralysis or procrastination phase instead of dialing in on what drivers really need or what they're asking for. By simply asking them about their problems, we can determine what our top priorities are, and this is an opportunity to build trust and be proactive.”

WorkHound allows drivers to offer anonymous feedback via text. The company then organizes the feedback into reports for executive teams. 

Farrell was joined by Kim Daigle, VP of human resources at PS Logistics, who in her 10 years at PS has seen the company grow from 450 trucks to 3,801 trucks and 5,800 employees, according to the company.

“You can't be replacing and growing at the same time,” Daigle said. “You've got to make sure that you're maintaining.”

Farrell noted that, although feedback is often thought of as being critical, managers should heed comments, as they may also include praise for what the company is doing right.

A culture of respect

WorkHound counted the number of comments with either positive or negative sentiment, then categorized them according to company size. The firm found that smaller companies have a higher percentage of positive comments and lower percentage of negative comments than larger companies. This places a higher burden on large companies to establish a culture that respects drivers.

“I think there's a certain expectation with a larger company that things are just automatically going to be better and be more organized, going to be more professional. So the expectation is already a little bit higher,” Daigle said.

See also: CEOs stress building and keeping a solid safety culture 

“But that's not an excuse,” she added. “You have to make more of a concerted effort to build the relationships between the driver and the DM or office personnel.”

Because drivers in a larger company will interact with more people across more departments, “making sure that everyone understands that that driver is the first priority and each office employee is helping to create the bond between that driver and the company, I think is critical,” Daigle said.

“Drivers are unfortunately the last to know when something's changed,” Farrell said. “A lot of things can change on the fly, whether a shipper changes their hours all of a sudden, or pickup times have been changed. Because of that uncertainty, a driver doesn't know when they're going to get their next load. And so, of course, one of the biggest things that the drivers are searching for is certainty out there. Whether that's more certainty around pay, more certainty about the loads that they're getting.”

Changing workplace values

Farrell observed that, in both trucking and in broader society, work values shifted post-pandemic. Drivers want a sense of purpose, and an opportunity for not only vocational growth, but personal growth as well.

“If they don't see an investment in their growth in the first three to six months, there's a higher likelihood that they're out the door. As leaders, we have to show that we're invested in people and their growth.”

Ensuring employee growth potential begins with training. “Fifty percent of people who left training comments in 2021 are no longer with the company,” Farrell said. “Turnover is higher in the first six months of someone's employment, so getting training right can make a big difference.”

Employee churn can cost a business thousands as they hire new workers. However, the experience lost can be even more costly.

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

“When high performing employees leave they're often taking years of institutional knowledge with them. And so in the past I've heard leaders say we'll just replace them. But the reality of today's labor market is that now you will spend the same amount of money to hire a less skilled person.”

Daigle says PS Logistics has changed policy over the years to offer training to less experienced drivers.

“We used to require six months of flatbed [experience] before we could even look at you, but now we're starting to introduce training to allow drivers who were maybe van drivers or reefer drivers to teach them how to do flatbed.”

Daigle emphasized the importance of hands-on training over an extended period where experienced driver managers can directly instruct new trainees.

“We realized very quickly that teaching is not like, ‘Here's your three-week course,’” she said. “What we say to the drivers is, ‘Don’t think about the money right now. We’ll give you a guaranteed minimum. We don’t want you rushing.’”

Farrell said that the average millennial stays in a company for 18 to 36 months, adding that “the reality is that permanent employment is dead.” He emphasized that fleets must focus on increasing tenure.

One way PS Logistics does this is by offering options for drivers so they can eventually find a different job in the company that doesn’t require them to be away from their families. While this can include shorter, more regional hauls, it often involves drivers moving into entirely different positions, such as training or field recruiting.

Transparency in compensation

Pay is a top concern for drivers. However, not all criticisms levied over pay are not about the amount, which has increased for drivers the past 18 months. Common concerns were about understanding payment structures and processes. 

“We actually make it a part of our onboarding sequence that driver managers reach out to each of their new drivers in their first and second week when they get their first pay slip or when they get their first settlement,” Daigle said, “so that we can go through with them explain everything, making sure that they understand what their pay means.”

“The pay structure in trucking is probably the most complicated pay structure for any industry in North America [and] pay is not just about the dollar amount,” Farrell said. “Sometimes it's about the equipment and tools to to do the job. Showing that you have good equipment that you're really taking care of someone that goes a long way.”

In 2021, WorkHound received close to 63,000 comments from thousands of workers, and the No. 1 type of feedback was about equipment

While the increase in driver pay is good, Farrell said, he warned of sign-on bonuses as being a short-term solution, and not to be used in place of cultivating communication and trust with drivers.

“If their feedback is ignored, a bunch of recruiters are out there happy to be their therapist.”

About the Author

Scott Keith

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