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Driving can be a lonely job. Making drivers feel like part of the team will help foster engagement.

This article is from the Spring 2016 issue of The Quill. To view the full issue, visit The Quill archive.

Ask anyone involved in the transportation industry today what their biggest challenge is and they will respond, “the driver shortage.” Countless companies say they have more business than drivers, and trucks sit empty waiting for someone to take the wheel.

Generally speaking, there is not a shortage of people willing to fill out an application. The driver shortage more accurately refers to the decreasing supply of qualified applicants as defined by our traditional standards. Think of your current workforce. If you could retain every one of your already qualified employed drivers, you would only need to hire based on growth or diversification needs. If that was indeed possible, would you still say that you have shortage of drivers? Probably not.

Perhaps the real problem is not a shortage of applicants, but motor carriers’ ability—or inability—to retain productive and safe drivers. In other words, what we really have is a shortage of engaged drivers, ones who will stay with a company long-term.

Engagement can mean different things to different people, but it generally entails trust, respect, acknowledgement and a sense of belonging. None of these important aspects of engagement can be present without communication. Unfortunately, due to the remote nature of the workforce, communicating with and engaging drivers is extremely challenging. However, an engaged driver will be more efficient, effective, productive and safe. Most of all, they will be loyal and dedicated. Engaged drivers are enthusiastic and genuinely care about the overall success of the team and the company.

Some industry professionals argue that within a relatively comparable pay and benefits field, the single most attractive feature of a company is its brand image. It’s the culture your brand reflects that makes workers want to stay. Think about your last job and why you left. It’s unlikely that your decision was due to one single event or merely the opportunity to increase your pay. The decision to leave was based on numerous experiences and ultimately your sense of engagement.

Research indicates that improving driver engagement may be more successful at improving turnover than pay and bonuses. Let’s explore engagement strategies in more detail.

Don’t assume you know what’s important to your drivers.

Consider conducting an engagement survey of your employees to better understand their internal motivations and what makes them happy and proud to work for your company. Just listening can help gain employees’ respect, but you must act on their feedback to earn trust.

“You must communicate what you learned and the action taken as a result of the survey,” says Kelly Anderson, an industry-leading recruiting and retention consultant and President of Impact Training Solutions. “If drivers perceive you did nothing with their input, they will be less likely to participate in future surveys and you are worse off than if you had not done the survey.” It’s true that productivity can increase simply because workers perceive you care, but don’t forget that some of the smallest changes can reap the largest rewards.

Demonstrate respect, honesty and empathy to all employees and contractors.

If cliques or circles exist within your company that make a driver feel like a second-class worker, the driver is more likely to leave, even if the culture of exclusion was completely unintentional. Similarly, if contractors or part-time workers are treated or communicated with differently than full-time employees, they will notice and feel less affinity for the company.

Invest in your recruitment process.

Your retention effort actually starts during the recruiting process. Mark Tinney, President of JOBehaviors, a company that specializes in helping companies hire and retain successful workers, believes engagement starts with matching the person with the right behaviors for the job. In other words, if a person’s expectations and/or behavior are different from the reality of the job, they will likely perform poorly and ultimately leave. JOBehaviors offers pre-hire behavioral assessment tools that use an intensive job analysis to help select top performers who love what they do for a living. For example, for truck drivers, JOBehaviors looks at questions including: Will the worker be likely to come to work well rested, maintain self-control in difficult or stressful situations, and look ahead to anticipate problems? Will the worker take responsibility for his or her equipment and overall image as a truck driver?

A recent 10-year study by Omnitrac reported that 90% of all serious collisions are committed by the bottom 50% of drivers. Tinney believes that a behavioral assessment gives you the tools to sidestep hires that pose the greatest threat to safety, retention and profitability.

“Carriers can only solve their driver shortage by consistently selecting drivers who bring the above behaviors to the table. The best way to eliminate the driver shortage is to hire the best drivers in the candidate pool and avoid those drivers who will ultimately disrupt your company and then leave,” says Tinney.

Not every hire is a step forward. Many candidates who look great on paper and interview well can actually take your company five steps back. Pre-hire behavioral assessments offer an instant, objective and predictive first step in the process to ensure every hire is a step in the right direction.

An engaged driver fights the driver shortage on two fronts: he or she is likely to remain a loyal worker and will also be your most effective recruiter for new drivers.

Cultivate a sense of belonging and teamwork during onboarding.

According to Kelly Anderson, about 75% of turnover occurs within the first 90 days of employment. “Immediately demonstrating professionalism and respect up front will lead to trusted relationships,” says Anderson.

Take the time to review written policies and procedures with the new driver while assuring them they are an important part of the team and their success is critical to the company’s success overall. HireRight, a background screening firm, found in its 2015 benchmarking survey that the top two techniques used by respondents to help retain new employees were longer orientation/training periods (41%) and appointing driver liaisons/mentors (32%).

“The problem with most retention efforts is they’re reactive,” Anderson continues. “Once a driver says they’re going to quit, it’s too late. Carriers must use proactive retention techniques that start before orientation and continue through the life of employment.” Anderson’s company offers a new driver survey service in which drivers are contacted during their first 90 days of employment. Drivers with concerns are escalated to someone at their company who can address the problem. As a result, most companies using this service lower their turnover by approximately 27%.

Don’t forget to expose new drivers to other departments and even upper management. Driving can be a lonely job and making drivers feel like part of the team will help foster engagement.

Communication, communication, communication.

Communication is the most important strategy for developing driver engagement. All efforts will fail if not communicated properly and regularly, and if a driver feels alone in the cab, it’s already too late. The most efficient and effective communication methods for reaching drivers are email, text or dispatch messaging. Social media communication can also be effective, however your company should ensure it has an official social media monitoring plan and response process. One or two negative interactions on social media can significantly affect your company’s image, so develop a plan for how any negative comments will be addressed.

Instead of only sending out information to your drivers, consider asking occasional questions as well to keep drivers feeling connected. Update drivers on the overall success and direction of the company, not just what applies to them on the road. And remember, the most engaging conduit to the company is conversation with a human being. In today’s world of text-based communication, humans still have inherently positive responses to a voice over the phone or a face-to-face interaction, so ensure that drivers have the opportunity to periodically connect with company representatives in person.

Cultivating a positive and engaging company culture will not only create satisfied workers, but advocates for your company. An engaged driver fights the driver shortage on two fronts: he or she is likely to remain a loyal worker and will also be your most effective recruiter for new drivers.

  • Categorized in:
  • Driver Management
  • Transportation Safety