Responding to drivers yields positive results

It's true. What we sow is what we reap. Farmers know a successful harvest starts with planning and planting the crop. Just as they wouldn't cast seeds to the wind, fleet managers can't wish poor driver retention away.

To get anywhere, you need to know where you're going and, sometimes, why you're going. So it goes with driver turnover. Thankfully, an excellent road map to curb this churning impact on your fleet has just come on the scene.

Released in April during the Trucking Profitability Strategies Conference at the University of Georgia, the 1998 Truckload Carrier Driver-Retention Survey clearly indicates which actions will produce bushels of success.

Conducted by mail, the survey polled fleets belonging to the Truckload Carriers Assn. and the National Tank Truck Carriers conference. Encouragingly enough, 55% of the respondents reported that driver retention in their fleets had improved since 1995.

What's particularly enlightening is that the 20 most effective retention tactics disclosed in the survey match up with the top 20 concerns expressed by nearly 1,800 truck drivers in a national truckload study conducted in 1995.

There's no way of knowing how many of the fleet success stories reported in this year's study were based on divining the information turned up by the driver survey just two years before.

Coincidence or not, comparing the two sets of results affirms that the carriers reporting improvements are pointed in the right direction.

The chief desires relayed by the drivers included better pay/benefits; reduced idle/non-pay time; greater job security; improved safety; enhanced communications; fairer treatment by managers/dispatchers; more respect and appreciation; and more pride in trucking as a profession as well as in their trucking company.

Sounds like a tall order. But in actuality, not too lofty for the fleets surveyed to deliver. And just like the driver requests, the best retention methods compiled fall into two rough categories: "hard" issues, like better pay, and "soft" concerns, such as more respect.

Whether it stems from an economic or emotional bias, many fleet owners and managers are still not keen on boosting pay to recruit or retain drivers. They'll be thrilled to know that increasing annual driver pay ranked only as the tenth most effective way to reduce churn rates.

That's not to say the other 19 fixes listed won't require spreading some money around. However, eight of the top nine could be put into practice at no more cost than a little attitude adjustment on the part of management.

The number-one retention draw? Nothing more than having managers and supervisors show "more genuine concern" for drivers.

The next three most-effective tactics were to treat drivers with more respect and appreciation; improve dispatchers' attitudes toward drivers; and increase the "friendliness" of managers toward drivers."

Other touchy-feely approaches that scored big included getting drivers home more frequently; getting them home for special occasions; and being more responsive to driver requests and suggestions.

On the other side of the coin are successful methods that are sure to come with a price tag. Along with better pay, these run the gamut from improving driver safety to providing more appealing tractors.

The fleets also report that investing in employee training pays off in higher driver-retention rates. But they're not talking about instructing drivers. What they've seen work are improvements in the training of dispatchers and fleet managers and, perhaps most interesting of all, in the "competence" of top managers.

Let's return to the top of the list. The simple truth is that it shouldn't break the bank for any fleet to treat drivers like the essential employees they are. And if managers and dispatchers can't get the hang of it, maybe you'd do them -- and your drivers -- a favor by showing them the door.

After all, it's far easier to find people who can push papers or talk into phones than ones who can drive a truck.