With National Truck Driver Appreciation Week just around the corner – running from Sept. 10 through Sept. 16 this year – fleets are no doubt preparing special events such as cookouts and contests to celebrate the work commercial motor vehicle operators perform day in and day out.

But Jane Jazrawy, co-founder and chief executive of CarriersEdge, an online training provider, argues that “driver appreciation” is something fleets should focus on 52 weeks a year, not only as it makes recruiting and retention efforts easier but because drivers who feel appreciated tend to be safer and more diligent.

“Most successful fleets do little things all the time to show their appreciation, rather than waiting for one designated week in the fall,” she noted. “Grand gestures that happen once a year can be undermined by daily frustrations and actions perceived as slights or insults.”

Several years ago, CarriersEdge created the annual “Best Fleets to Drive For” awards, produced in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA). Through interviews with nominated carriers and surveys among their drivers, CarriersEdge has pulled together what it believes is a “best practices” list of tips fleets can use to show more appreciation to their drivers.

Those best practices aren’t state secrets, and in many cases they’re neither difficult nor expensive to deploy, Jazrawy noted. But the payback in terms of lowering driver turnover alone can be huge, she pointed out. Here are six tips from CarriersEdge on how fleets can show appreciation to their drivers on a year-round basis:

Start them early: “If your company has taken the time to build a safe and productive culture, you want new hires to feel as though they’re a part of that from the first day,” Jazrawy said. Successful fleets are using orientation, training, mentoring and coaching programs to get new employees up to speed. One fleet places new hires in a dedicated lane for up to four weeks with one dispatcher overseeing them, eliminating the stress over trip planning. Another includes spouses and/or significant others in part of orientation to give them an understanding of life on the road and company programs and benefits.

Give them a voice: Lots of companies talk about open-door policies and keeping the lines of communication open with employees, but the old-fashioned “suggestion box” doesn’t cut it, Jazrawy noted. Fleets are using driver councils, surveys to determine driver opinions and concerns, and Facebook and Twitter accounts to create online communities in which drivers can submit photos and stories about their experiences on the road. One carrier enlists experienced drivers to build training materials to ensure best practices are captured and shared across the entire fleet. “Drivers are smart, they’re dealing with customers, operational issues and equipment every day,” she explained. “They’re a great resource for continuous improvement ideas. Seeing their ideas and feedback welcomed goes a long way toward boosting drivers’ sense that they’re appreciated.”

Keep them informed: Rumors fueled by incomplete or inaccurate information can undermine morale and a driver’s sense that he or she is valued and respected. “Smart fleets make sure drivers get accurate and timely information about company operations, road and industry conditions and what’s going on in the lives of their fellow employees,” Jazrawy pointed out. Weekly roundtable meetings with drivers keep information flowing in both directions. Since drivers are usually on the road and unavailable to attend meetings, social media is a useful tool for reaching them; one company posts meeting notes on an internal net to allow drivers not in attendance to stay informed and weigh in with thoughts.

Keep them healthy: Life on the road, with its physical demands and stress, can be tough on health. “Drivers appreciate it when companies demonstrate their concern about employee health with wellness programs that go far beyond providing healthy recipes in their newsletters,” Jazrawy stressed. Some of those health-focused efforts include: providing formal weight-loss and fitness programs; access to gyms, either on site or at a fitness club; on-site health and wellness coordinators to work with drivers; on-site health and dental clinics at terminals; plus equipment for in-cab cardio and strength training.

Welcome them back: The very nature of trucking has drivers away from the office or terminal for weeks at a time. “Drivers can sometimes get the feeling that no one remembers they’re out there,” Jazrawy emphasized. So why not let them know they’re valued contributors to the company? Some fleets are using electronic signboards to display customized greetings to drivers returning to the yard; a few integrate that with internal notifications so office staff can go out to greet them directly.

Give them what they really need: Does a driver really need one more free hat or T-shirt? Fleets are focusing on things that actually make a difference to drivers’ lives and job performance, whether it’s technology (providing up-to-date devices), concierge services at terminals to help drivers with personal and professional services while they’re on the road; and discounted or free work gear such as complete uniform sets, raincoats and jackets, as well as annual vouchers for safety shoes and jeans. “Those are perks that can noticeably decrease the cost of doing the job for drivers at those fleets,” Jazrawy noted.

“Remember, the point is show that they’re appreciated, which means showing that you think about them regularly and care about what they like and want,” she added.