With labor shortages and a lack of skilled, experienced drivers, driver retention has become a hot topic in the industry. One way to retain drivers is to make them feel appreciated year-round.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there are a total of 8.7 million individuals employed by the commercial motor vehicle industry in the U.S.—excluding the self-employed. There are also 14.5 million large trucks and buses operating on American roads today. The American Trucking Associations reported that "trucks move roughly 72.6% of the nation's freight." ATA also reported that trucks transport $940.8 billion in gross freight revenues, which represents 80.7% of the nation's freight bill for all of last year.
Those are big numbers, and they make an even bigger impact.
With high truck driver turnover—up to 95%, according to a 2022 article from The New York Times—it's even more important that fleet owners show appreciation for their drivers in ways that also make an impact. Fleets can accomplish this by making changes to develop a driver-centric culture, make a driver's job easier, and prioritize health.
Scott Rea, president of AvatarFleet, said one way to help retain drivers and build a driver-centric culture is to develop a trusting relationship that starts at recruitment. According to Rea, drivers often quit jobs because they feel recruiters lied to them when the reality of the job doesn't meet their expectations.
Build drivers' trust from the get-go by implementing a zero-tolerance policy for lying, Rea told FleetOwner. "Give your recruiters one strike, and then fire them after strike two."
Second, Rea suggested supplying drivers and dispatchers with an expectation agreement and having them sign the agreement during orientation. Finally, Rea recommended implementing a monthly one-on-one meeting with drivers to assess their experience. This will help fleet owners and managers gather information, such as what the driver was expecting, what actually happened, what went well, and what could be improved, Rea said.
This process will help drivers feel heard and will help establish a culture where drivers feel valued.
One way to make a driver feel appreciated is by equipping them with technology that makes their job easier. Technology in trucking is widespread. From factory-installed safety technology to aftermarket integrations, there are multiple ways fleet owners can use technology as a benefit to drivers.
If buying new trucks is in the budget, consider trucks that have the latest safety technology, such as advanced driver assistance systems. These systems are designed to aid a driver, make their jobs easier, and decrease driver fatigue. Monitoring systems also help exonerate drivers in the event of an accident where the driver is not at fault.
See also:Safety tech's immense value
Further, aftermarket technology includes automated workflows, navigation and route optimization, and real-time communication. Often, fleet owners can provide these technologies to drivers via a tablet or the driver's smartphone to help streamline inspections, navigation, and trip management.
"Fleets that integrate technologies into the driver's everyday life are taking the work drivers are already doing and streamlining it to improve efficiency and productivity," Wayne Deno, vice president of freight and over-the-road services at Zonar,told FleetOwner. "The goal is to make the driver's work effortless to free up as much time as possible to efficiently achieve the core function of delivering products."
Other fleet manager and driver assistance software is also available on the market, such as RoadSync. RoadSync improves the payment process for truck drivers through automation. It's designed for simplicity; over half of RoadSync transactions take place through a driver's phone. According to a survey conducted by RoadSync, "over 90% of drivers prefer vendors that make it easy to pay for their services, and a similar amount prefer brokers who make it easy to get paid," said Robin Gregg, RoadSync CEO.
"Businesses who use the RoadSync platform have access to modern payment rails that mean it's always fast and convenient to pay for the services needed to keep truckers moving," Gregg told FleetOwner.
A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that long-haul truck drivers are more likely to be overweight, smoke, and be less active compared to other workers in the U.S. The survey also concluded that 26% of drivers reported having high blood pressure, compared to 24% of the U.S. working population, and 14% of drivers reported having diabetes compared to 7% of the U.S. working population.
A 2012 study surveyed 316 male truck drivers and found that 27.9% experienced loneliness, 26.9% experienced depression, 20.6% experienced chronic sleep disturbances, and 14.5% experienced anxiety. Further, a 2021 study conducted by the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that "generally, individuals with history of driving accidents had significantly more mental disorders than people without history of driving accidents," which emphasizes the importance of good driver health.
Deno suggested fleet owners and managers support their drivers to safeguard mental and physical health. A blog post from employee insurance company, Missouri Employers Mutual, suggested fleet owners and truck driver employers offer trucker health and wellness education, set an expectation that drivers reach out for help when it's needed, create a safe space for those that do reach out for help, train managers to recognize signs of declining health among their drivers, and offer resources, such as telehealth and mobile apps to drivers who have little access to doctors and health professionals while on the road.
Additional steps fleet managers can take to combat poor driver health is through communication. "Often, mental health is a hidden component of overall health," Deno explained. "It can also be supported by in-cab technology that strengthens communication with dispatch, lessening the degree to which drivers feel alone or lonely."
See also:The isolation of the road
It's important that fleets have incentive programs in place to encourage excellent driver performance. Incentivizing drivers is easy, and there are multiple ways to do so. A common go-to incentive is giving bonuses to drivers that continually outperform their peers. If the budget doesn't allow for bonuses, give drivers recognition awards or praise drivers publicly and privately.
Another way to incentivize drivers is through gamification. Few people can say no to friendly competition, and awarding a driver as the most fuel-efficient, safest, or most productive in the fleet can encourage drivers to push themselves to be the best. True Fuel, a driver scorecard program focusing on ways drivers can improve their fuel economy, scores drivers on things they can control while providing real-time driver feedback and coaching. Implementing programs like True Fuel in a fleet helps managers clearly see driver performance and address those that are lagging as well as award those that are outperforming others.
Deno says that not only will gamifying an incentive program help drivers' performance, it might also help retain or recruit drivers to the fleet. Another benefit of gamification is operational efficiency, which can also help a fleet save money.
"Creating ways for drivers to compete brings out that edge and gives drivers focal points other than their destination to focus on throughout the day," Deno said.
Appreciating truck drivers should go well beyond one week of the year. Following practices to ensure drivers feel appreciated will go a long way in recruiting and retaining drivers, and it just might lead to a healthier bottom line.