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Tips and tricks for retaining drivers

New employee retention techniques can help reduce turnover levels.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

It's no secret a driver shortage exists in the trucking industry and that turnover remains a pressing issue.

In late April, the American Trucking Associations stated that the annualized turnover rate for large truckload fleets increased to 102 percent during the fourth quarter of 2015. This was the second straight quarter the rate was at least 100 percent. For all of 2015, the turnover rate averaged about 93 percent.

The rate at small trucking companies, which the ATA stated as those making $30 million or less in annual revenue, also increased during the Q4 2015 to 89 percent, a jump of 21 points. The average for all of last year was 79 percent.

There isn't one specific reason as to why turnover rates are so high. Some drivers may find this line of work simply isn't for them, whereas others might feel burnt out because of a subpar work-life balance.

"The biggest concerns within the transportation industry are attracting and retaining drivers."

In a press release, ATA chief economist Bob Costello said the biggest concerns within the transportation industry are attracting and retaining drivers.

"The rising turnover rate, coupled with anecdotal reports from carriers, shows what a premium there is on experienced, safe drivers," said Costello. "And those drivers have and will continue to benefit from rising wages and benefits."

While higher wages and more robust benefits packages certainly help, these are not the only methods companies should use to retain drivers.

Here are some of the ways trucking companies can go about increasing driver retention levels.

Listen to employees

Employees, and not just drivers, are the backbone of any company. Customer service representatives help clients with any sensitive matters, while sales representatives scout potential clients to showcase why the services of their company should be looked at.

While on the job, workers may develop opinions on certain tasks or procedures. According to 365 Trucking, companies that really listen to employees will help improve retention rates.

By taking the time to hear what workers have to say, managers and senior executives will help show they do value the opinions of everyone. But simply listening is not always enough.

For example, all workers should be called by their first name, as it helps create a connection on a personal level. Small talk revolving around family, plans after work or likes and dislikes can also strengthen that bond. When an employee is making a recommendation or talking about an issue, little head movements from managers can go a long way toward showing workers every word is being heard and not traveling through one ear and out the other.

If a worker has concerns or suggestions, it also helps to take notes on what he or she has to say. This way, these notes can be examined later and kept in mind in case the same topics come up again.

Additionally, asking questions during a conversation can also help drivers feel more comfortable expressing their opinions. More importantly, though, is that questions will indicate to employees their superiors are listening and taking note of the conversation.

Invest in workers

According to the 2016 Transportation Spotlight Record study from HireRight, driver turnover can also be attributed to an inadequate balance between work and life, while health is another cause of concern.

The study found that 41 percent of drivers voiced their concerns about how much time they spend on the road, while another 21 percent cited health issues as reasons for leaving the industry.

"Driver turnover can also be attributed to an inadequate balance between work and life."

Both of these areas are not new, but may signal to companies a new approach is needed to help drivers maintain health on the road. The right balance will have to be taken because after all, a trucker's main duty is to travel.

Companies should work with a driver to develop a plan to help ensure he or she works enough hours, but still has enough time to spend at home and recharge when not driving. Encouraging drivers to look after their health while on the road and off the job will also help increase retention.

However, 45 percent of respondents to the HireRight survey reported they do not offer any type of wellness program. Steven Spencer, the managing director of transportation at HireRight, said wellness programs improve the quality of life for drivers while increasing driver retention.

"Driving is a physically demanding profession and getting proper rest, eating right and maintaining an exercise routine is a challenge due to the nature of the job," said Spencer.

Other forms of investment will also help in the long run. Increased wages should be high on the list. Possible ideas company executives could explore include tuition reimbursement up to a certain amount

It's also worth noting that investment in employees doesn't always have to come from monetary value. Employee appreciation events and awards can go a long way toward companies displaying the affection they have for workers who help the company as a whole reach quarterly and yearly goals. HireRight found that around 57 percent of companies are starting to invest more in these appreciation events, which don't have to be anything super extravagant. For instance, a quarterly lunch or a summer company outing can help further build team camaraderie and show that companies appreciate the work every employee accomplishes.

"The transportation industry is realizing that wellness programs and other methods of improving the quality of life for drivers, while relatively new to motor carriers, are effective ways to attract and retain drivers and boost their overall health, well being and retention," Spencer added.

Moving forward

Transportation companies have to make a concentrated effort to improve driver retention. The ongoing shortage, coupled with the average age of drivers now being 49 years old, represents a challenge for companies as retention rates have recently increased.

New approaches may be needed to reverse current trends. From higher wages, to a good work-life balance and employee appreciation events, companies will have to work toward keeping employees for the long term.