Market Trends

A New Emerging Fleet Issue – ‘Burnout’

May 9, 2011

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My takeaway from last April’s NAFA I&E Conference was the extent to which fleet managers are being stretched to their limits. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but I sensed it has reached an intensity not previously seen. The catalyst has been the recent economic downturn, which decimated what little staff may have been at the disposal of many fleet managers. Similarly, fleet managers lucky to survive the layoffs have assumed additional responsibilities from less fortunate managers.

Fleet management has become a “juggling act,” which has become even more difficult as fleet managers have taken on greater responsibilities, invariably with less staff. The day of the fleet manager handling only fleet has become a rarity. Fleet managers who excel at their corporations have taken on diverse management responsibilities, but the down side is that the total amount of time they can devote to fleet has been reduced, sometimes dramatically. The universal complaints from fleet managers are the long hours and lack of help. A few voiced a feeling of “burnout.”

Although technology is enhancing fleet manager productivity, it also adds to the work level. Something as innocuous as e-mail is taking up more and more time out of the work day with each passing year. Nowadays, the first hour at work is simply getting caught up with e-mail – that is, if you haven’t been monitoring e-mail during your off-hours, which is another issue. Nonetheless, fleet managers would find it difficult to do their jobs without e-mail. It is both a boon and a curse to fleet managers (and I can think of several fleet managers who would lean more to the side of curse).

Putting Out an Endless Stream of ‘Fires’

Unfortunately, these time constraints have caused a fleet manager’s daily activity to devolve into “crisis management,” putting out an endless stream of “fires.” Compounding this difficulty is that some companies don’t take fleet as seriously as they say they do. At these companies, management doesn’t devote much attention to fleet, unless, of course, something goes wrong or an issue arises that affects their personal company vehicle. If you ask these senior managers if they’re involved in fleet, they say they are, but, in reality, they are not. One reason is that fleet is not core to their business. Many fleet managers have heard the refrain: “We’re in the ‘widget’ business, not the car business.” Some of these senior managers view fleet as a necessary evil. They view fleet as an expense, and it costs what it costs. The fleet manager’s job is to control the cost as best he or she can. Invariably, additional resources are not invested to support these efforts because management doesn’t believe such expenditures bring sufficient ROI.

In addition, many fleet budgets have remained flat for consecutive years, while costs go up annually. There is ongoing pressure on today’s fleet managers to get the same results, even though the budget is smaller. Complicating matters, many outside factors, over which fleet managers have little control, thwart cost-reduction initiatives. During this period of economic uncertainty, there is increased management scrutiny of fleet. Many senior managers fancy themselves fleet experts. They minimize the skill-set required to effectively manage a multimillion dollar fleet asset.

However, anyone who truly understands the science of fleet management recognizes it takes years to develop fleet management expertise and institutional knowledge. Fleet managers complain of the waste of time expended to prove a manager’s pet theory is incorrect and having to do so over and over again with each successive management team. Sadly, the contribution a fleet manager makes to the corporate bottom line is often underappreciated. At these companies, management does not view its in-house fleet manager as a member of the company’s management team. But they should, for the simple reason fleet managers are managing a multimillion dollar asset that has a direct influence on the produc-tivity of company employees.

Resilience is More Important Than Ever

There are many fleet managers who believe these issues do not apply to them due to the fact they are operating a well-managed fleet, and their efforts are acknowledged by their management. However, I will contend that complacency is a real danger to fleet operations, especially well-run fleets. A fleet manager who gets too comfortable with his or her operation becomes complacent with his or her skillset. When operations are running smoothly, there is inertia to change. The conventional wisdom is to not change something that isn’t broken. Exemplary fleet managers are not complacent; they are strivers constantly pushing the envelope. One underutilized industry resource is prospective suppliers. Many fleet managers make themselves inaccessible to prospective suppliers. They are missing a wonderful opportunity. You need to continually ask suppliers what they have seen among their client base that is successful. Could these practices be implemented in your fleet operation? In fleet management, it is necessary to push your horizon, be creative, create “stretch goals,” and be willing to experiment with technology-based fleet solutions.

There is another trait I’ve witnessed with long-time fleet managers – resilience. This trait is now more important than ever.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]


  1. 1. Ross Friedmann [ May 10, 2011 @ 02:23PM ]

    Excellent blog subject, Mike! The same can be said for many of us on the other side of the fleet manager's desk! Lots and lots of fires and daily crises, and only myself to get them handled...

  2. 2. Richard Battersby [ May 11, 2011 @ 08:47AM ]

    Great article, Mike and spot on! It's pretty clear that fleet managers had better be on their game at all times now, more so than ever in the past. These days I just don't think anyone can feel safe and assume that if anything bad goes down "it will happen to the other guy"

  3. 3. Rachel Johnson [ May 15, 2011 @ 11:21AM ]

    Spot on! I'm still trying to build several of my fleet programs, but I'm the one & only in my fleet department. It's hard to get ahead of the game, but I keep trying because I believe I add value to my company. The day I become complacent, is the day I get replaced.

  4. 4. Donnie Woloszynek [ May 17, 2011 @ 12:33PM ]

    Mike, these last two years have been like dealing with a on-going forest fire, where all you have is bucket that's half full of water...At national gypsum, we have extended our replacement mileage to 100K from 80k just so we could keep the cars a little bit longer on their lease. Pay special attention to the tire rotations that each vehicle has done and always looking at the replacement tire cost for the miles remaining before we have to turn that vehicle in.....and everyone wants to have the vehicles in their fleet that are low-cost related, run along with little major maintenance, have great fuel economy and can get us the highest dollar at resale time.....

  5. 5. Pedro [ May 17, 2011 @ 03:34PM ]

    As usual, great article Mike!

    "Many senior managers fancy themselves fleet experts"- I should say, everybody, is a fleet expert.

    Best Regards,

  6. 6. John Brewington [ May 24, 2011 @ 02:00PM ]


    In today’s economic and business climates, none of us can afford the ill-advised luxury of complacency – no matter what we may do! Today’s hero can easily become tomorrow’s goat. The good news is that top-notch people are still in demand. A fleet manager facing burn-out needs to evaluate their situation – weighing other opportunities within (or outside) the fleet management arena. Maybe now’s the time to get that advanced degree or that professional designation you’ve been putting off. Staying in a stressed-out, unappreciated, position is not your only choice.

  7. 7. Steve Kibler [ May 27, 2011 @ 09:44AM ]

    Great article Mike and sooooo true. One suggestion I might add to "making ourselves more accessible to prospective suppliers" is asking for their insight into developing technology. Numerous times I have learned about new "stuff" from a vendor simply by asking; what do you see the industry leaning towards as far as new technology? When we learn about new potential, we should immediately educate ourselves about that technology to determine is there is immediate ROI potential or potential improvements in service delivery costs.

  8. 8. John Musgrove [ May 29, 2011 @ 08:23PM ]

    Great write up Mike! As a service provider I see exactly what your talking about ..DAILY! The acquisition, purchasing and procurement deprtments should certainly be working as closely as possible with their Fleet Managers. I used to wonder why would one person want to take on the huge burden, when there are companies out here who can aliviate so much of the stress, then I learned that with all the cuts companies are having, there is no more room to spend. It's ALL about saving.

    As you have written before, it is primarily up to those fleet managers NOT to get complacent and start thinking outside the box.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!



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Author Bio

Mike Antich

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Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.


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