Does the company culture you promote actually line up with reality? if not, drivers will notice.  -  Photo: Jim Park

Does the company culture you promote actually line up with reality? if not, drivers will notice.

Photo: Jim Park

I haven't written a word about driver recruiting and retention in quite a while, but two unrelated events brought the continuing conundrum into sharper focus recently. A couple of weeks ago, I spent more than two hours on the phone with a friend who owns a small fleet. And last week, I dialed into a webinar by WorkHound, presenting what I'll call the latest trends in carrier/driver dynamics.

My friend's fleet is small, 45 trucks at the moment. He specializes in partial-shipment "LTL" with east-west lanes. Not surprisingly, he's having what he considers trouble hiring the top-notch talent he needs.

His overarching question was: Why do drivers continue to work for lousy carriers when there are good jobs (like his, he says) going begging? We debated the question for quite a while and came to no conclusion, but among the suspects: marketing, education, employee support, and honesty, among others.

We talked about how carriers pour millions of dollars into software packages to track driver performance and prescribe appropriate mileage to pay drivers. But one of the biggest irritants for drivers remains being shorted out of a few miles here and there by the difference between shortest and practical routes on the mileage program.

My friend pays hub miles and works with his drivers on planning their own routes. He doesn't plan the routes for them.

"They know what's out there and how to deal with it better than I do now," he admits. "Traffic, opening and closing hours, customer preferences, which order to load the truck for the best routing [hint: it's not always linear]. I leave it up to them because they know what they're doing."

Rewarded for Thinking — Not Driving

Rather than relying on software, he encourages his drivers to think on their feet and plan deliveries according to schedules, availability, etc. Sometimes the routing defies conventional "shortest distance" logic, but it may enable a driver to make a pickup or drop at a time that allows for more advantageous repositioning for the next stop.

His drivers are not shortchanged for running off route. Instead, they are rewarded for using their heads.

He also pays hourly for all the time the wheels aren't turning — all right from the electronic logging device. Loading, unloading, fueling, etc.— all on the clock. In other words, his drivers know, almost to the dollar, what they cart home on payday.

Contrast that with one of the persistent irritants reported in WorkHound's Trucking Trends report: "Pay can also be confusing, especially in frontline work like trucking where it can change based on mileage, route, and other factors. Many of the raised issues centered on lack of transparency and clarity, with workers confused about payment amounts, frequency, and more."

"It's not always just about the dollar amount. A lot of the feedback that we saw was focused on payroll process and the consistency of pay or lack thereof," said Natalie Cowden, WorkHound's trucking engagement specialist. "I would say the biggest issue, generally speaking, is that drivers want to feel like they're being paid what they're worth."

There are millions of reasons why drivers' pay sometimes comes up short, from trips that somehow don't get filed, to payroll clerks deciding a driver ran off-route and docked the mileage. Never mind that the driver may have been running around a road closure or was detoured around construction.

Drivers are bound to react negatively to that kind of management, and given their choices today, it’s incumbent on fleets to look at what they can do to minimize the irritants. Why risk losing a good driver by shaving 20 or 30 miles off a trip because the computer says there’s a shorter way?

Does Your Messaging Resonate?

How you position the company in your marketing material can come back to bite you if you don't live up to it. If you promote the company as having an open-door policy, it had better be open when drivers come knocking.

WorkHound reported 41% of the feedback it received last year on "people" and company culture from drivers was negative.

"A common thread, especially in logistics and trucking, is a call for better management, particularly middle management. Survey results pointed to a disconnect between workers' expectations and the support they receive," the summary notes.

It may take drivers a few months to figure out the "open door" policy was more of a recruiting trope than part of the company culture — but they will, eventually.

"You can fool all of the people, some of the time. You can fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time," as President Lincoln once said.

Even though the demand for drivers eased some last year, and carriers can afford to be a little picky, don't think drivers will put up with miserable and uncooperative middle managers for long.

If I were a carrier today hoping to attract the best of the best drivers, I’d sure be out there marketing my fleet as a place where drivers can make a good living. I’d be explaining exactly how my pay package worked for them, not against them. And I'd make darned sure nobody else within my organization was working at cross-purposes to that objective.

And I sure wouldn’t be spending money on software that creates problems: I’d be using it to my drivers' advantage. There’s only so many of the good ones out there. Why drive them off to your competitors?

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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