Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief

Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief

Are you treating your drivers like employees?

That may sound like an odd question. Unless you use owner-operators, of course your drivers are employees.

But … do you really treat them like the rest of your employees?

That was the question posed by Duff Swain, president of Trincon Group, who I interviewed recently for our Driver Dilemma series.

Swain is adamant that before you even think seriously about the topic of this month’s Driver Dilemma installment, “Expanding the pool,” you need to address your retention issues. Otherwise you’re just trying to bail out a boat without fixing the leaks.

“Everyone talks about the shortage and need for new drivers, but no one is really taking care of the turnover issue,” he told me. Fleets need to come to grips with reality, he said, and recognize that most have not been good at recruiting, orientation, communications or accountability.

“Turnover is a communication issue pure and simple,” he says. “Treat your drivers like employees and bring them into the company and make them feel like they want to be there and want that job.”

Ask yourselves these questions and think about whether you truly are treating your drivers as employees:

What do you call your drivers?

“Nine times out of 10, I go into a trucking company and they are talking about drivers, not team members or associates.” Swain says. Maybe it doesn’t seem important, but words are powerful.

How do you pay your drivers?

Much has been made of the need for better pay to draw drivers into the industry, but how drivers are paid can be as important as how much. Are any of your other employees paid piecework? Or are they paid with a yearly salary, or hourly?

“Why not pay [drivers] a salary related to tenure and experience, plus a mileage or hourly incentive based on a certain level of productivity?” Swain asks. “That way you are saying to the driver, ‘You are an employee.’”

It comes down to fairness. When drivers are paid by the mile or by percentage and have little control over either one, such as when weather or excessive detention times drive down their miles, it’s not fair. And drivers know it.

How do you evaluate your drivers?

Do you have an annual or semi-annual review, raise, promotion process for your employees so they know what’s expected of them and they get feedback and guidance on how to meet their goals? Do you do the same for your drivers? In most cases, Swain said, small- and medium-size carriers don’t even have job descriptions for drivers, let alone performance expectations.

How do you communicate with your drivers?

Do you have signs in your company that indicate some areas are off-limits to drivers? Are driver managers trained to actually be managers, not just dispatchers, with the associated communication skills? Do you have a separate driver newsletter, or a company-wide newsletter? Do you have driver award ceremonies, or company- or terminal-wide award ceremonies? Your very efforts to make drivers feel special could be keeping them apart from the people they need to interact with to feel like, and work as part of, a team.

And lastly … have you asked your drivers if they feel like valued employees? 

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