PHOENIX — Some of the most recognized drivers in trucking gave a roomful of carrier management the key to attracting and keeping professionals behind the wheel: “Show them respect.”
“That’s the number one thing,” said Paul Gattin of ABF Freight. “They are human, and there’s not a truck out there on the road that can move without that driver in the seat.”
And respect for drivers comes in many forms, or so explained a panel of America’s Road Team Captains — drivers selected because of their safe, successful careers, to be ambassadors for the industry. The Oct. 18 session was part of the American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition here.
Covenant’s Frank Silio noted that the dispatcher’s relationship with the driver is critical to whether a driver is successful or moves on.
“The dispatcher has to be completely honest,” Silio said. “Nobody likes to be lied to. Make sure your operations department understands that honesty is the best policy.”
Drivers need to feel they have “a gateway” into the company. And drivers want to know that the different departments at headquarters are “all on the same page” — and that drivers getting accurate information on any issue, whether it’s idling policy or health insurance.
Eddie Hosegood of Publix Supermarkets still remembers his first dispatcher, and his simple “thank you” at the end of day is the reason Hosegood decided to stay with the company.
“I would do anything that man asked me to,” he said. “There was no way I was going anywhere else.”
And if someone at the office simply asks about the driver’s family, or “knows that a kid is getting married or just graduated,” it makes the driver feel valued.
“Just let him know that you care,” Hosegood said.
“If a company cares about me, then maybe I’ll stick around awhile — maybe things will get better,” Gattin said. “And they will get better.”
But one surefire way for company to let a driver know that it does not care is by ignoring a request to get home.
“For an over-the-road truck driver, home time is huge,” Silio said. “When you’re out on the road six, seven eight weeks at a time, and when it’s time to come home, the wrong question to ask that driver is ‘why?’ It doesn’t matter why. You wouldn’t put up with a late delivery to your customer, would you?”
And drivers don’t want to be “out of the loop” on company matters.
“Drivers spend most of their time away from the terminal, and they don’t get kept up to date and change in policy, personnel or company events,” said Con-way Freight’s Jerry Charron, suggesting something as basic as an up-to-date bulletin board, newsletters, or even notes in the pay envelope. “They don’t get the gossip around the office. You can’t expect one person to pass it down to the next and the next.”
Of course, it’s to a company’s advantage to proactively communicate with their drivers.
“There are three forms of communication in trucking: telephone, teletext, and tell-a-driver,” Gattin joked. “Sometimes what drivers hear can get pretty twisted up. Rumors are like poison in our industry. Put out the facts. That’s what a driver wants: pure, simple facts.”
Drivers also want — and need — good, well maintained equipment.
“The trucks are not only their offices, a lot of them consider the truck their home,” Charron said. “They’ll spend weeks on end out on the road, and to be afforded a nice quiet, comfortable truck is one of their biggest concerns.”
A driver’s attitude — his health and well being — depends a lot on the quality of his truck. Balky air-conditioning and busted radios simply make life on the road uncomfortable, adding unnecessary stress to an already stressful job.
“If he’s less comfortable, he’s not concentrating on safety as much as he should, or doing his job quickly and efficiently,” he said, adding that nice trucks pay off at the roadside. “If the truck’s well kept, and looks shiny and clean, they tend to get a lot more waive through inspections. If you pull in and it’s dirty, right off they pull you to the side.”
Indeed, drivers need to be in on the company’s equipment selection process.
“Get some of your senior drivers involved — guys that have got some experience out there. Bring in some your vendor reps and let them to talk to your drivers,” Gattin said. “The drivers will let you know what works and what doesn’t work.”
Those drivers can then share their observations with other drivers in the fleet, and the drivers then “feel like they have a voice” in management decisions.
“When a driver feels like he’s part of the company, he’s more apt to stay with you,” Gattin said. “He’s making a difference.”
The drivers encouraged carriers to install APUs, and even satellite radio, to keep drivers comfortable.
Asked about CSA 2010 rejected the suggestion that companies could post drivers scores as a motivational tool. The scores should be confidential, and should not be used to “belittle” low scoring drivers. Instead, companies should address any problems with the drivers individually.
Nor should drivers fear EOBRs.
“It does not make me driver any safer,” Hosegood said, adding that his company uses event recorders and posts driver reports based on them. “I’m not going to drive a certain way because I have a recorder on my tractor. As a professional, I’m going to drive safe all the time, whether it’s in there or not. But want them to know I’m a safe driver.”
Indeed, top performing drivers should be acknowledged — and emulated.
In addition to driver performance incentives and appreciation events, Gattin suggested that companies set up their own “road teams” of exemplary drivers, “to let him know you’re proud of what he does for your company.”
Similarly, if I driver is involved in his community, companies should support those efforts — and reap the public relations benefits in the process.
Of course, respect for drivers, good communication, quality equipment and recognition for a job would seem to be “no-brainers” in any trucking company.
If a driver even has to ask to be treated fairly, shouldn’t he be looking elsewhere? Or is there a good way to seek changes rather than starting over at another company?
“If you have a suggestion box, read those suggestions,” Silio said. “If somebody takes the time to fill one out, that information was important to them, however trivial it may seem. You need to take the time to listen and open your door. We are living in time when change is happening constantly.”
And if a driver would like to clip this Biz Buzz and drop it in the suggestion box back at the terminal, feel free.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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