January 2008, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story
5 - I was set up for failure.
This means there are conditions that come with the job, hours of service and other regulations, and company policies that make it impossible for the driver to succeed - drivers feel it's a no-win situation.
A smart company tries to set drivers up for success, rather than failure. At Greatwide Logistics, for example, which is a primarily owner-operator company, they try to offer their contractors help in running their business, from discounts on things such as fuel and tires and auxiliary power units, to business-consulting services.
"A lot of times, I think drivers don't have an understanding of how to make use of the money that they do make," DePillo says. "I think that's part of the support that a good trucking company can provide, is explaining to a driver how they can be more efficient in how they run so they can maximize their paycheck. Companies offer different pay packages, but drivers probably could find a way to increase their pay with their existing company without having to move, if they understood a little more in terms of how they can maximize their opportunities."
One of the interesting things Strategic Programs has found is that for owner-operators using fleet lease-purchase programs, the older the equipment, the happier the people are, rather than the other way around. Yurkus believes that's because the payments are lower, so there's less pressure. Someone on a lease-purchase program with a high payment may feel they've been set up for failure.
"When someone signs up for these kinds of programs, the people who run these programs need to do more of, 'Are you sure you want this tractor, because the difference in your payment will be $600 a week and that means less home time.' "
6 - This isn't what I expected.
The recruiting and orientation process, as well as the first two to three months on the job, can quickly push a driver back out the door. Driver complaints that life as a driver was not what they expected, or that their recruiter lied to them, are common.
Trucking recruiters, as a group, have an unfortunate reputation for luring drivers with unrealistic claims. One of the best thing companies can do is make sure the recruiting process isn't setting up expectations that can't be met.
"One of the biggest problems drivers have in the industry is that they don't trust any of us," says Celadon's Glaser. His company has found that the recruiter sitting down with each driver and going through a simple written checklist of the company's expectations helps drivers understand what they're getting involved with.
Dart Transit does much the same thing during its new contractor orientation, Jordan says. "The last thing that happens is, he meets with his contractor fleet manager and we go through an expectation exchange - a formal document the fleet manager refers to. We try to make it conversational, and we cover what their expectations are. If a driver says the recruiter told him he can expect 3,500 miles a week, then we invite the recruiter to come into that exchange and deal with it right then."
At Maverick, when a driver arrives for orientation, the instructors go over the job, pay and requirements in detail, says Brad Vaughn, recruiting manager. "If the driver feels that is not what he/she was told by recruiting, then the recruiting manager and the recruiter will sit down with the driver to discuss the miscommunication and make sure the driver fully understands every detail. Sitting down and making sure the driver has a complete understanding of the job prior to moving forward solves many problems on the front end before they develop into larger issues."
Pay close attention to the first 60 to 90 days. Craig Transport, for instance, uses a mentor program, where someone follows up with the driver in a week and in a month to see how he is doing.
"Some smart companies we know of have a process of checking in with the driver after 30 or 45 days to see how things are going, what they like about the job, and what they feel would be an obstacle to them succeeding in the long term in that position," Yurkus says. "That's had a significant impact on early turnover."
7 - I have problems with equipment or maintenance.
You see a lot about spec'ing tractors to attract drivers, but the condition and maintenance of the equipment - both tractors and trailers - can push drivers out the door.
Maintenance procedures are a potential problem area. "Some companies plan the maintenance rather efficiently, where the driver could use the time for personal time while the truck is being fixed," Yurkus explains. "At other companies, the driver's waiting around half a day for their truck to be fixed" - and likely spending that time thinking about all the other irritating things about his job.
You also need to consider how the driver and the technician relate to each other. Drivers who report problems during their pre-trip inspection and then find they weren't fixed before heading out on the road are going to get the message that the company doesn't care about their comfort or safety.
There has always been an adversarial relationship between drivers and mechanics. Technicians think drivers tear up the truck, and drivers say mechanics never get it fixed right. While procedures need to be in place to prevent drivers from wasting technicians' time, at the same time, technicians need to appreciate the importance that seemingly minor problems can have for drivers.
They need to understand that the truck is essentially the driver's home. If you have a squeak in your car and you only drive it an hour a day, it's not a big deal. But if you live in that vehicle, it's different. Educate both drivers and technicians about each other's job, whether it's in a formal training program or one on one.
8 - There are no opportunities for me to advance.
This doesn't necessarily mean being promoted out of the truck into dispatch. For some drivers that may be an opportunity they're looking for, but for others, they prefer being behind the wheel than behind a desk.
But you need to have some way of rewarding drivers who stay with the company, some form of seniority. Maybe that's more pay for more years on board. Maybe drivers who have been with the company longer get to drive better equipment. Maybe it's the opportunity to transfer into a different division of the company that offers dedicated or regional runs or some other type of more-appealing loads and routes. Even if they don't take advantage of it, it gives them the feeling that the future holds something better, that they have career options.
"That's critical for retention," Yurkus says. If there are rewards for seniority, "someone who's having a bad day will think twice about having to start over with a new company."
9 - The company doesn't communicate with me.
Communication with the driver should not be limited to his relationship with his dispatcher. If a driver feels like a mushroom - kept in the dark and fed manure - he's going to be more likely to leave.
"Drivers want to know why they're getting a streak of bad loads, or are not getting enough miles, or what the future of the company is going to be," Yurkus explains. "When they see new drivers being hired when they feel there aren't enough loads for existing drivers, they want management to tell them what the plan is."
This could be as simple as an article from the president in the company newsletter, explaining why the market is soft right now and what economists are saying about prospects for the next quarter. "It makes drivers feel like they're on the inside, that they've got a common problem and a mutual goal," Yurkus says. "If drivers don't have enough communication, they will fill in the blanks - they will assign negative motives to what they don't have information on."
Of course, communication with the company goes both ways. At CFI, says Schmidt, whenever the company considers making changes that could affect drivers, management seeks input from drivers - and in most cases bases the final decision around that input.
For instance, each month CFI holds a driver forum, in which 12 to 15 drivers are randomly selected to participate in a discussion led by Schmidt. Drivers are asked about various issues or concepts being considered. If there is a particular issue drivers are passionate about, three or four forums may be held on that topic.
CFI also has a 24-hour suggestion line for drivers and other employees to weigh in on items being discussed in Joplin while they are on the road - and the company has a commitment to providing responses to their questions within 24 hours.
"Through these simple processes, drivers know that the company cares about them and that their opinions matter," Schmidt says. CFI's turnover consistently runs 30 percent below the American Trucking Associations' published average.
10 - I'm not appreciated.
Driver appreciation efforts need to go beyond the usual Driver of the Month or Driver Appreciation Week activities - it needs to be part of the culture of the company.
"Drivers want to be a part of something," says Greatwide's Newell. "They want to feel like they matter, that their opinion matters, that their feedback somehow has an effect on making things better in the company they work for."
One surprising thing Strategic Programs found was that drivers crave positive feedback from customers. "One thing we have seen is these people tend to respond very well to positive reinforcement," Yurkus says. "They get a lot of criticism; they get a lot of feedback when they do something wrong. I walk into offices and see lobbies full of awards for customers, but drivers say, 'I never get any feedback on customer satisfaction.' "
"That's one of the issues that really surprised us at Smithway," says Witt. "We do exit surveys, and that was a key issue that came up - these guys wanted to hear how they were performing for our customers. When you think about it, they usually just hear the negative stuff - when they didn't deliver on time, or damaged a load."
So Smithway started publishing positive customer feedback on drivers in its newsletter, and turning those letters into glossy pieces of literature and posting them on bulletin boards at operating center. As a result, driver scores on their surveys improved on that aspect.
"There are all sorts of different ways where companies can convey to a driver the message that he's appreciated and understood - or that he's not," Yurkus says. "A driver who doesn't feel appreciated or understood will have a bad attitude, and it's very easy for him to look around and build up a whole package of reasons why it's not a good job."