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January 16, 2017 4:00 AM, EST
Opinion: Appreciate Truck Drivers Every Day of the Year

This Opinion piece appears in the Jan. 16 print edition of Transport Topics.

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By Norris Beren

Chief Executive Advisor

Risk Reward Consulting

National Truck Driver Appreciation Week was Sept. 11–17 last year here in America. It is recognized as a time to honor and acknowledge the nation’s truck drivers for their dedication and hard work and for putting up with extraordinarily challenging working conditions throughout the year.

Instead of trucking companies and vendors making commitments to provide substantive changes and address what’s really important on a daily basis, the “feel good” initiatives come out of the woodwork everywhere for just seven days.

Beren

It’s no wonder new entry and retention for this profession is in turmoil.

The trucking industry suffers from perhaps the worst employee turnover problems of any industry because of issues involving lack of respect, low driver pay, long hours, lack of home time, poor driver relations with dispatch/operations, long waiting times, lack of parking facilities for rest stops and on and on. These are real working conditions that have long needed to be addressed.

During National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, there is no shortage of “feel good” gifts, raffles and other chances to win something offered to drivers by truck stops, truck dealers, restaurants, all sorts of vendors and trucking companies. There is no amount of coffee, free food, baseball caps or points for free stuff that makes up for the conditions and lifestyle to which only a truck driver is exposed.

Then it’s back to business as usual.

This commentary is a reality check, not an attempt to disrespect or disparage any supporters of Driver Appreciation Week. For the most part, the companies involved are not part of the problem. It’s the trucking company CEOs and their executive leadership that need to take notice. Only they can help correct conditions that will make the difference that drivers will really appreciate year-round.

By the way, where is the shipper community in all this celebration? How much of the driver’s compensation, performance, satisfaction and effort is affected by the behavior of shippers and their customers?

What if this important part of the supply chain took the time to acknowledge its role in the economics and make more of an effort to provide some of the basics to make drivers’ lives a bit easier and less confrontational? A safe place to drop a trailer waiting to be unloaded, a clean bathroom, a place to do paperwork — all sorts of accommodations that would make the whole driver experience more enjoyable and beneficial to the driver and his company.

After intensive research, I was unable to identify any shippers who sponsored special activities or provided other perks to show appreciation for the truck drivers that haul freight for them.

One comment made by an industry spokesperson encouraged everyone to say, “Thanks” to drivers during National Driver Appreciation Week even if you can’t host an event to honor drivers. Nice!

However, this presents a glaring contradiction and supports the case that quite possibly the rest of the year we are not appreciating drivers the way we should. National driver appreciation should be ongoing, a culture and not just for a finite period of time. While most events are celebrated at specific times when it comes to people such as truck drivers or public servants, appreciation should be continuous, not an event.

Does this sound skeptical and overly critical? Let’s consider the core problem. We know the trucking industry and the American economy depend on drivers, and the turnover and shortage problems are entirely fixable. Still, they cannot be fixed by offering just one week of appreciation and 51 weeks of the same old treatment, problems and lack of respect and appreciation.

Motor carrier companies hold the most power in improving the driver turnover and shortage problems. There are three initiatives that can make a difference immediately if implemented.

First, adopt and share the drivers-are-first attitude in all dealings with drivers — every day — whether you are a trucking company employee, working for a shipper, a consignee or a vendor.

For example, it can be as simple as taking a moment to give a driver you come in contact with a few words of recognition — such as a simple piece of paper with the words: “I appreciate you,” the driver’s name, your name and the date. This will help to expand Driver Appreciation Week to every day of the year.

Second, if you want to create an Intelligent Driver Retention System and are willing to rethink your driver retention practices, complete a Driver Turnover Assessment. You can tell yourself in five minutes why you really lose drivers consistently.

Finally, trucking companies could vastly improve their retention by conducting formal “stay retention” interviews periodically with their drivers. It can be as simple as a private conversation, asking three or four key questions to drivers that will show that the company cares. The key is to listen carefully to the answers with understanding and compassion. Sometimes that may result in a call to action or at the very least an acknowledgment of a problem. And, it could include an “Atta boy,” or “You’re doing a great job” comment.

Beren provides guidance to trucking CEOs. He is author of the new book “How to Create an Intelligent Driver Retention System.”