'I always hear that a driver will walk across the street for 2 cents more a mile, but that's not what we've found," says Rim Yurkus, CEO and co-founder of Strategic Programs Inc., a turnover consulting firm in Denver.
When drivers leave your company, it is most likely not because another company has enticed them out from under your nose. Instead, something triggers them to leave. And it's not always the big things. Instead, it's likely to be a succession of small things, until one day a driver has simply had enough.
"These people keep score," Yurkus says. "It's like an old-fashioned scale, where bad days pile up on one side, good days on the other. At some point, the number of bad days gets high enough to tip the scale."
Strategic Programs' exit interview process is designed to get past the superficial or easy answers drivers give for leaving. "If you have a casual or not-well-thought-out (exit interview) process, you can ask why and he may tell you because the new company paid 2 cents more per mile," Yurkus explains. "That many not be a lie, but it's rarely the whole truth.
"If you turn back the camera a month or two, something else happened - maybe a driver manager broke his promise about getting him home for his kid's birthday, and while he was nursing that negative attitude, he started looking around for other reasons to quit."
The following list of reasons drivers leave is based loosely on Strategic Programs' database of 22,000 truck driver interviews.
1 - I don't make enough money.
As you probably would expect, money issues, including rates and getting enough miles, are the top reason drivers leave. Complaints about not getting enough miles have risen in the past year as the economy and freight have softened.
"It's important we offer competitive rates in a tight industry," says Rob Newell, vice president of recruiting and retention for Greatwide Logistics. "We've got to remain competitive to attract labor from other markets and attract people into the profession."
Schneider National, for instance, last fall announced what it says is one of the largest driver pay increases in the company's history, with the potential for drivers to earn up to $4,500 more per year.
There are also ways to address the compensation issue other than the per-mile rate. At Greatwide Logistics, for instance, they've been testing a technology solution they're calling GreatMatch. This system makes recommendations to the company's owner-operators on optimizing their income based on hours of service regulations and historical information on various types of loads.
But you might be surprised to learn that the majority of drivers actually leave for non-money-related issues.
"Even when money is the biggest reason, it rarely accounts for more than 20 percent of the people who left," Yurkus says. Issues such as time at home and the relationship the driver has with his supervisor loom large.
"I think pay tends to be the easy answer," says Jim DePillo, 20-year trucking veteran and co-author with Stan Poduch of the book "True Stories of Driver Turnover: Translating the Driver's Perspective."
"The truth is, if there's a pattern of people not responding well to him within the organization, eventually the frustration's going to build and lead to him deciding to leave," DePillo says.
2 - I'm not satisfied with my home time.
This one won't surprise anyone, but it is a more complex issue than simply "not enough home time." Strategic Programs found that some drivers complained that time at home was too infrequent, but others focused on the unpredictability of time at home - or that when they did get home, they didn't get to stay long enough.
Part of satisfying drivers in this area starts in the recruiting process. "If they live in Montana, and your lanes are between Detroit and Laredo, it's not going to happen," said then-president and COO of Celadon, Tom Glaser, during a recruiting and retention conference last year. "Pay attention to your hiring area and where you drive your trucks up and down the road. Hiring area and freight density play an important part in getting those drivers home."
The unpredictability of home time is the main reason drivers leave Maverick, says Darius Cooper, vice president of operations. "While we try to get every driver home for a minimum of 34 hours each weekend, it is still unpredictable. In 2006, 97 percent of our drivers were home every weekend, but in 2007 we have only been able to maintain a 95 percent home average." In many cases, he notes, being home on a more consistent basis is much more important to the family than having a $50,000 per year income.
That's the thinking behind an unusual program at Schneider called Home Run. A group of three drivers are assigned to two trucks. Each driver works two weeks on, one week off. They'll be home 17 weeks out of the year, and know which weeks those are going to be. Schneider also is expanding a program that allows drivers to schedule their home time in advance using an online calendar. Other changes in Schneider's dispatch system mean nearly two-thirds of the company's drivers get home daily or weekly.
3 - I don't like my supervisor.
'People don't leave companies; people leave people," says Greatwide's Newell. For drivers, the supervisor is their dispatcher or fleet manager, their primary point of contact with the company. By the very nature of the job, this relationship is fraught with potential for problems.
"When you look at the behavioral profile of a driver and a driver manager, they're opposed," explained Tom Witt, then-senior vice president of operations at Smithway Motor Xpress, during a recruiting and retention conference last year. "Driver managers are extroverted, work in a fast-paced environment, and work well without structure or guidance. Drivers are very patient. They spend a lot of time in the truck by themselves, they don't receive criticism well, and they need a lot of structure in their environment. What seems to be the disconnect is the way the message is delivered from the driver manager to the driver. The driver's not going to receive very well a dictatorial directive without explanation as to why."
Of course, there are many different personalities both behind the wheel and in the dispatch department. A driver who has friction with one dispatcher might get along great with a different one. There are companies that offer employee profiling services to help better match drivers to dispatchers. But all dispatchers/fleet managers need to have the right knowledge, tools and attitude to deal with drivers.
"Beyond issues like pay and home time, it's all about relationships," Newell says. That's why Greatwide is developing what it calls a Driver Relationship Management Initiative, focused on training fleet managers (what Greatwide is calling driver support leaders). They also are developing technology that will make the dispatching chores less time-intensive and give the driver managers more time to interact with the drivers.
"It's about knowing them by name - they're not a truck and a trailer, they're a person," Newell says. "They're a father, a mother, a brother, a son, and we need to get to know them. We need to congratulate them on a company achievement or if their son won the Little League championship game. That's what relationships are all about." The training encompasses topics such as interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, anger management and learning about what the driver faces in his daily life out on the road.
Joplin, Mo.-based CFI uses fleet manager evaluations, where drivers are asked to evaluate their supervisors and offer suggestion for improvement. "It helps the fleet manager see things from the drivers' perspective, and perhaps alter how they approach implementation of new concepts," says President and CEO Herb Schmidt.
One common complaint Strategic Programs hears from drivers is that their driver manager does not value their ideas and suggestions. Drivers want to feel like part of the company, and having their ideas taken seriously by their dispatcher can go a long way toward that feeling.
While drivers may cite conflicts with their supervisor as a prime reason for leaving, don't forget the importance of other people the driver comes in contact with, as well, DePillo says - payroll, safety and compliance, mechanics and so forth. "There are a variety of interaction points within an organization, and every conversation that anyone has is an opportunity to retain or to lose the driver," he says.
4 - I'm not happy with the way I'm dispatched.
Beyond the relationship with the dispatcher, there are many opportunities for dissatisfaction with the dispatching and scheduling itself.
One common complaint is unpaid wait time at the customer. "If the sales department doesn't get involved with the customers to get the truck unloaded faster, that's a problem," says Glaser. "The salespeople have to be involved with this process."
At Dart, says Joyce Jordan, COO of the Dallas Operating Center, "We are able to look at the average loading and unloading time by shipper and consignee, and have made a concerted effort to have our salespeople talk to the customers and consignees individually to try to resolve the problem. If a driver is delayed, we will pay him or her for waiting time after a certain limit."
Other complaints include being stranded far from home without a load, bad directions on how to get to a shipper or consignee, bad information on where to pick up a trailer, having to drive in New York City, and so forth. Some of these issues can be addressed with computer technology that helps dispatch drivers more effectively and can provide turn-by-turn directions right in the cab.