A better way to say pay

Nov. 10, 2014
Maybe the driver pay issue isn’t just about more money

I had never met a “global remuneration professional,” at least not to my knowledge, before the recent American Trucking Assns. (ATA) Annual Conference and Exhibition this October. In fact, if you’d asked me about such a title, I might have quipped something like, “What’s to know? More pay is always better, right?”

And I’d have been wrong. As it turns out, the subject of pay for work is as complex and nuanced a subject as the humans who give and receive it. It is also a subject of much interest to the trucking industry as it continues to grapple with a driver shortage that is presently estimated to be at about 35,000 drivers and threatens to top 100,000 by 2017.

So let me introduce you to Beth Carroll, a genuine global remuneration professional and managing principal of the Prosperio Group, a sales compensation consulting firm. Carroll spoke to a small group of editors at ATA.  I wish you could have been in the audience, too, because what she had to say about how trucking manages driver pay just might make a big difference for fleets and their drivers.

Carroll recommended that fleets take a “target total cash and total rewards” approach to driver pay, blending some sort of guaranteed base pay rate with extra income opportunities based on performance.  It is more attractive to drivers to be told they can expect to make a total of $60,000 on average with up to an additional $10,000 [in performance incentives] than it is to be told you pay 48¢ per mile, she explained, even if the amounts work out to be about the same. “It is basic human psychology.”

This little observation hung in the air in front of me like a neon sign. Carroll wasn’t necessarily talking about big jumps in driver pay, but about changing the way pay is discussed and delivered.

It should have been so obvious, right?  I know a pay-per-word compensation plan would make me feel pretty gloomy and unmotivated, for instance. I’d be constantly worried about income. Perhaps I’d feel as though any skills or experience I brought to my work were suddenly stamped null and void—without value.

Similarly, a straight pay-per-mile system probably does not contribute much in the way of feeling financially secure for a driver, either. Some weeks might be good, others less so if the weather is bad, or the truck breaks down, or a customer cuts back on shipments. It also doesn’t offer much in the way of personal recognition, of affirmation that a driver is bringing something of value to the organization by what they are willing and able to contribute of themselves and their skills.

Why, then, is the subject of driver pay expressed so often in terms of cents per mile rather than in some other words that can help create a better sense of the financial security and personal value that humans crave from their work?

Carroll also said that when it comes to adding an incentive program to a total compensation package, rewards don’t always have to be given as cash bonuses, either. They might be offered as points that can be used toward something the driver wants, or even status within the company.

No incentive plan will be successful, however, Carroll cautioned, if basic human needs concerning work are not met first. It seems to make sense, doesn’t it? Maybe retracing the way back to the basics of human psychology will be what eventually leads the industry forward toward the goal of a safe, stable and satisfied workforce.

Wendy Leavitt is Fleet Owner’ s director of editorial development. She can be reach­ed at [email protected].

About the Author

Wendy Leavitt

Wendy Leavitt joined Fleet Owner in 1998 after serving as editor-in-chief of Trucking Technology magazine for four years.

She began her career in the trucking industry at Kenworth Truck Company in Kirkland, WA where she spent 16 years—the first five years as safety and compliance manager in the engineering department and more than a decade as the company’s manager of advertising and public relations. She has also worked as a book editor, guided authors through the self-publishing process and operated her own marketing and public relations business.

Wendy has a Masters Degree in English and Art History from Western Washington University, where, as a graduate student, she also taught writing.  

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