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Why drivers leave and what carriers can do to solve the problem

Why drivers leave and what carriers can do to solve the problem

By Steve Binkley
InfoStream Safety Consultant

Driver retention is a problem facing most carriers today. It’s also one of the very serious challenges feeding the lack of truck drivers.

The American Trucking Associations reports in first quarter of 2021 the turnover rate was 83% for truckload fleets with more than $30 million revenue. At smaller truckload carriers, the turnover rate was 73%.

Research indicates that thirty percent of drivers will leave a motor carrier in the first three months and fifty percent of drivers will leave in the first six months. If the driver stays with the motor carrier for one year or more that is a good chance the driver will stay for an extended period because of the impression the carrier has made upon the driver.

Let’s examine the four reasons why drivers choose to leave – whether it’s for a different carrier or from the trucking industry entirely.

  1. Trust and respect. Many drivers feel they can’t trust their Driver Manager, which sets them up to fail. Drivers are told they’ll get home by a certain time, but those promises are often broken. Many are put on different loads than what was originally discussed.

    We know things can happen that weren’t planned, but when it does, it’s important to be up front and perhaps compensate drivers. It’s also beneficial to extend drivers’ home time after they’ve returned.

    If these problems persist, drivers will most likely be looking at other options. That’s why it’s important to listen to drivers and their ideas. Drivers also want to be respected and appreciated. We should share our company’s success and show how they played a part.
  2. Driver pay. Driver compensation has been neglected for a long time. Carriers have made progress in raising driver pay so that it’s competitive with other jobs, but the question should be asked: Is it too late? Are prospective drivers turned off by what they’ve heard or read about pay? Are drivers being told the pay will be one thing, and then it’s something different? We should be completely transparent by showing drivers a breakdown of the compensation.

    Carriers can help overcome the pay challenge by compensating drivers for downtime out of their control and financially rewarding drivers for outstanding performance or exemplary safety records.
  3. Family time. Drivers want to be home more with family. A recent survey with CDL school graduates indicates that 42% indicates that home time was the most important factor in choosing a company to work for. Even in such a demanding job, it’s possible for the driver manager to plan and build home time visibility, so drivers know when to expect home time. Many new drivers should be permitted to go home as soon as possible to reassure family members when they can expect to see them and for the driver to collect items they need or may have forgotten when attending orientation.
  4. Stress. The job of a truck driver is stressful. We should all be concerned about drivers’ health, asking them often, “Are you sleeping and getting rest?” If they tell us they’re not feeling well, do we dismiss them, or do we help them find solutions? Carriers should offer drivers health screenings and time to exercise, whether they’re at the terminal or on the road.

Additional ideas to try:

  • Implement a driver advisory board. Listen to what drivers tell us is important. Everything they tell us may not be possible, but if we are able to change or start a program that is beneficial to drivers and improves conditions, drivers will view it as a positive, and they’ll feel their ideas and concerns are being heard.
  • Have a mentor program for new drivers. Have experienced drivers share information and lessons learned with them, so their challenges, questions, and fears can be resolved before thinking they have chosen the wrong profession. Sometimes the perception is not reality. What a better person to reassure that everything will be all right than a seasoned driver who has been with the company for many years.
  • Invest in safety technology. Invest in new technologies on equipment that can help improve driver safety. This action shows drivers that carriers care about their safety.
  • Keep trucks maintained and free of constant breakdowns. Generally, drivers and the motor carriers don’t make money if we are sitting due to mechanical failure. This will become frustrating, and drivers will start to look elsewhere for other employment. They want to earn a competitive living instead of sitting on the side of the road.

    The driver retention problem is ongoing and plays a crucial part of the driver shortage problem. Before we can expect to improve driver retention and decrease the driver turnover rate in our own company, we should examine ways we can improve our driver positions and make them more attractive. Drivers need to feel good about the profession if carriers want them to stay.

    Let’s identify and measure the reasons why drivers leave in the first 90 days and try implementing the ideas mentioned earlier to reverse the trends we are seeing today.

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