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July 8, 2019 3:15 PM, EDT

Driver Productivity Can Be Boosted by Addressing Health, Stress

Person getting blood pressure checked High blood pressure is one example of a medical condition that could keep a trucker from getting a full two-year certification from the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Getty Images)

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During the dog days of summer, when the nicer weather means easier hauls but perhaps longer hours, drivers and freight workers at one Pennsylvania carrier won’t have to worry about asking for a break.

When drivers and employees at PetroChoice Holdings want to take a sick day, or just take time off for any reason, all they have to do is inform their boss they will be taking “PTO,” or paid time off. No excuses needed. It’s part of an effort by the carrier to enhance productivity by improving benefits.

Marilena Acevedo, vice president of human resources for PetroChoice Holdings of Fort Washington, Pa., said the policy helps ensure the employee feels free to take time off when he or she needs it. The company also wants to encourage its drivers to see a doctor on a regular basis.

PetroChoice logo

Overall, the PTO program reduces the stress of an employee having to explain why he or she won’t be at work on any particular day, she said.

“They don’t have to tell us why,” said Acevedo.

The program was developed after surveying PetroChoice’s 900 employees. Acevedo said the company was pleasantly surprised at the results, indicating the company already had done things to make employees feel comfortable and appreciated. But PetroChoice, with a fleet of 350 trucks in 32 states, felt it should do more.

“[The survey] prompted us to add benefits to help reduce stress,” Acevedo told Transport Topics.

The company added floating holidays, or PTOs, which the employee can take at will. The company also offered a telemedicine program for times when a driver cannot see a doctor while on the road. In some cases, Acevedo said, the employee can call a doctor and get a prescription in as little as one hour. The relief an employee may feel over addressing a medical issue helps improve the employee’s morale, Acevedo said.

The trucking industry is especially challenged by an employee population troubled with health issues, an issue that threatens productivity and one that could worsen the driver shortage.

One business official in health care told TT that he found almost half of truck drivers surveyed had at least one health issue that kept them from getting a full two-year certification from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Such conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure or hypothyroidism. All of the conditions require treatment over time and do not mean a driver has to come off the road.

But if left untreated, such conditions will certainly cause damage to a driver’s health, meaning he or she may have to drop out of the workforce, said Mitch Strobin, vice president for UrgentCare Travel, a medical care provider located at 13 truck stops across the nation.

Mitch Strobin, vice president for UrgentCare Travel

Strobin

The federal government will issue a medical examiner’s certificate for less than 24 months when it is desirable to monitor a condition, such as high blood pressure, according to the DOT website. Thus, productivity is tied to health, to treatment plans, to relaxation policies and to a proactive human resources department.

“If drivers are not healthy, they are not productive,” said Strobin. “They are going to get sick. They are going to leave the workforce.”

Strobin and his company have been working to find ways to keep truckers healthy while keeping in mind their busy work schedule on the road. Oftentimes, even with drivers who work for major logistics companies, they cannot find the time to schedule personal time off to see a doctor or nurse at a clinic.

Finding a spot and parking a truck and trailer can take hours by itself, Strobin said, so his company decided to locate at truck stops operated by Pilot Flying J, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based company. Strobin said UrgentCare Travel plans three more locations in 2019.

Pilot Flying J truck stop

Pilot Flying J truck stops are home to 13 UrgentCare Travel locations around the country. (bintibee/Flickr)

UrgentCare Travel offers care plans to reduce out-of-pocket costs for users, which Strobin says is important to keep drivers regularly seen to control medical conditions such as diabetes or hypothyroidism. If drivers stay on a treatment course, they can stabilize their condition and work for years to come.

“Part of productivity is making sure their drivers are on the road,” said Strobin. “If drivers don’t have some form of health care, their conditions will get worse.”

Making sure drivers feel good in general is one part of the puzzle, however. Acevedo said her company also strives to make sure the company feels good about the job, too.

One thing PetroChoice looks at is “work-life balance,” or making sure employees have a comfortable life outside of work.

The company offers an employee assistance program, a resource for drivers to access confidential assistance “for anything and everything going on in their lives.” The program, which offers counseling on such stressors as finances and health, is also offered to immediate family members.

And on the other end, managers are trained how to engage and communicate with employees, said Acevedo. Making sure a manager is in the office seeing drivers off early in the morning is important, she said.

And when National Truck Driver Appreciation Week comes around, the company celebrates its employees every day, she said, handing out gift cards and holding events.

Boosting productivity and morale also has an extra benefit, Acevedo told TT — the drivers spread the word, and recruitment becomes easier.