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New research shows younger drivers, dispatcher relations key in turnover

“If I were an employer or manager of a carrier, I would follow responses to these questions and identify those drivers who are having strained relationships with their dispatchers. They may find that they have a dispatcher problem, not a driver problem, especially given that the decision to quit may be event driven.” -Dr. Ying Cheng, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame.

The Trucker News Services

1/9/2013

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With driver turnover once again exceeding 100 percent among large carriers in the truckload sector, new research suggests how companies might identify and keep drivers most likely to leave.

Stay Metrics, a research-based company dedicated to finding solutions to driver turnover, has released initial findings from satisfaction surveys conducted among hundreds of drivers over-the-road drivers since July 2012.

“We’ve discovered stark contrasts between drivers in different age groups,” said Tim Hindes, president and CEO of Stay Metrics. “While drivers between 25 and 35 make up just 10 percent of those who participated in the survey, almost half of the drivers who quit — 40 percent — come from this age group.

And although the findings represent a relatively small sample of all drivers and is limited to those who drive for Stay Metrics clients, we feel the information is strong enough and important enough to make public now.”

The driver satisfaction survey was developed with the advice of Dr. Ying Cheng, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame.

Stay Metrics is located in a research park adjacent to the university campus.

The survey asks drivers more than 80 questions on topics ranging from long-term career goals to satisfaction with managers and dispatchers.

“We were hoping that the survey could be used for predictive modeling and help clients identify drivers most at risk. This early data proves that our survey works,” Hindes said.

In analyzing the survey results, Cheng was able to contrast characteristics of drivers who quit against those of drivers who didn’t.

That analysis shows results consistent with the age finding.

“Marital status is another indicator,” said Cheng. Drivers who had never married were twice as likely to leave. “Since the younger group is predominately single, this also is likely to be related to age,” he said.

 “There are many answer choices, including stay in trucking but work for another carrier; go back to school; start a business; retire,” Cheng explained.

Among answers from the turnover group, returning to school, changing careers and starting a business show up more frequently than in responses given by the general population of drivers. Those answers are consistent with the age findings.

The survey results also yield important clues about why drivers leave and suggest ways carriers may target and retain at-risk drivers.

Drivers are asked if they intend to stay with their carrier for another year.

“The group that quit are twice as likely to say they intend to leave,” Cheng said. “However, when asked if they had thought about quitting in the past six months, the ‘yes’ rate isn’t nearly as high. That suggests the decision to leave may be driven by an event.”

Asked what would lure them to another carrier, drivers gave expected answers including higher pay, better benefits and more vacation time.

“In the turnover group, drivers cited more respect, better career advancement opportunities and more time at home,” Cheng said. “Advancement and career opportunities didn’t turn up at all in the general population, but did turn up in answers from those who quit.

“We are learning a lot relating to this age group. They are single. They desire more time at home. They are interested in career advancement.”

Taking 10 measures of job satisfaction, drivers in the turnover group scored lower in all 10.

“They find the job to be less interesting, less challenging, with more physical and psychological stress, and report more strained relationships with dispatchers,” Cheng said. “We found quite a lot of dissatisfaction with dispatchers. This measure of driver-dispatcher relations is one of the key predictors of drivers at risk of leaving the industry.

“If I were an employer or manager of a carrier, I would follow responses to these questions and identify those drivers who are having strained relationships with their dispatchers. They may find that they have a dispatcher problem, not a driver problem, especially given that the decision to quit may be event driven.”

The survey also may help carriers identify issues with compensation or job security. Or it may show that, for younger drivers in particular, more frequent runs that allow more home time could reduce stress and improve satisfaction and retention, Cheng said.

Hindes, a 25-year veteran of the trucking industry, isn’t surprised that younger drivers are most at risk.

“This age group is not yet committed to the industry, let alone the carrier, and these drivers require a longer period of orientation into the industry,” he said, adding that the career advancement concern also shows the importance of knowing they are working for a carrier who gives them the ability to grow inside the company in positions other than as drivers.

Newer drivers also are more likely to react to events, Hindes added.

“Older drivers, those who have been in the industry for some time, are more likely to have seen the ups and downs of the job. They are less likely to let a conflict with a dispatcher or a bad set of runs cause them impulsively to leave their carrier in hopes of finding greener pastures. Seasoned drivers know by experience that the grass is not necessarily greener,” he said.

Eventually, Stay Metrics expects the survey to produce a scale that can be used to predict each driver’s level of risk. That tool will evolve over time as more carriers and drivers participate.

But for now, “We’re seeing some pretty strong trends,” Hindes said. “Improving relationships and increasing respect with younger drivers, particularly those who have indicated interest in leaving for another carrier, can help companies retain drivers most at risk.”

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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