You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
That old chestnut could have served as the title to Stay Metrics’ latest white paper. Instead, the analytics firm, which specializes in driver retention, engagement and training, went with a couple of cover-page questions: “Is Early Turnover Damaging the Business? How and What Can We do to Stop it?”
The report, released July 13, is based on a statistical premise that would come as a surprise to no one in trucking: the industry has a turnover problem. It reached a “historic high” of 95 percent in the third quarter of 2017, the report says in its opening statement.
It’s also isn’t exactly a revelation that most of that turnover – 72.6 percent – occurs within the first year, with almost half of those in and out the door in three months or less.
“Considering the costs of recruitment and retention,” the report states, “one may wonder, what do we know about the leavers and what can we do to stop them from leaving?”
A research team led by Stay Metrics Chief Science Officer Timothy Judge set out to determine whether early-stage job leavers share any common characteristics, and if they do can that be used to prevent some of the turnover.
The team combined data from previous research with results obtained from Stay Metrics’ orientation surveys, which have been given to 62,000 drivers at seven days and 45 days into their employment; and its in-depth Annual Driver Survey, as well as driver turnover data provided by its 100-plus clients.
Some interesting patterns emerged from the data, said Stay Metrics Chief Executive Officer Tim Hindes.
“Every carrier’s different in terms of what the issues are, but there are some common issues,” Hindes said. “and what the hope is, is that the carriers glean through this and that they understand things like recruiter satisfaction and what that has to do with retention.”
One finding that may at first seem to fly in the face of logic is that drivers who quit in three months or less, called “early leavers” in the report, are actually more likely to recommend that company to another driver than those who depart later.
Among early leavers, 52 percent reported a positive attitude toward the company.
This can be attributed what is known as the honeymoon period, Hindes said. When people start a new job, they approach everything with a positive attitude. Even if they decided to leave, it’s with more of a “no hard feelings” attitude, Hindes said. “It’s so early they’re willing to give the benefit of the doubt, a bit, to the company that some of it might be on them.”
The Stay Metrics team also looked at which drivers tend to be early leavers. Specifically, they looked at whether age could be a predicter. Hindes said that even before this project began, he and Judge had talked about the supposed millennial problem, the popular dogma being that today’s young adults don’t have a strong enough work ethic or sense of loyalty.
“The reality is there really isn’t much difference,” Hindes said. They broke early leavers into five-year age groups. Millennials, baby boomers and every group in between were within just a few percentage points of one another in their likeliness to leave within the first year.
They also looked at whether industry experience made a difference. The study showed that veteran drivers – with “veteran” defined as a driver with more than one year’s worth of experience – were slightly more likely to be early leavers than rookies.
“The experienced driver can smell the disconnect a lot quicker,” Hindes said. If they’ve been burned before, they’re apt to come in with an eye out for red flags. If a brand-new driver senses a problem, they can’t tell off the bat if it’s a problem with the company or the whole industry. They might even wonder if they’re the one with the problem.
“The more experienced driver will be quicker to say, ‘yup, I’m cutting bait, I’m leaving,’” Hindes said.
The study concluded that driver dissatisfaction can start practically out of the gate, and that a driver’s attitude toward their recruiter and their dispatcher by their 45th day of employment are a strong signal of whether that driver will be an early leaver.
The recruiter’s role in shaping a driver’s opinion of a new company is especially crucial, Hindes said.
According to the study, drivers who expressed high satisfaction with their recruiter have a 22 percent lower turnover rate in the first three months compared to those with low satisfaction.
The importance of dispatcher satisfaction is nearly as pronounced. There was nearly a 16 percent lower turnover rate in the first three months among drivers who expressed high dispatcher satisfaction.
The reasons for the influence of dispatcher and recruiter satisfaction on drivers’ attitudes are different, Hindes explained.
Once a driver is on the road, the dispatcher is their most frequent connection to the company, and they remain an important influence throughout the driver’s employment. Data shows employees are much more likely to stay at companies where they have friends. While the dispatcher doesn’t have to be the driver’s best buddy, it makes a world of difference if they are at least work-friends.
“One of things Stay Metrics does with its clients is gauge driver satisfaction levels with dispatchers so carriers can work with dispatchers who need to up their game,” Hindes said. “What we suggest on the dispatch side is using a psychometric tool, that you can actually pair a driver with the right dispatcher.”
While the relationship with the dispatcher may be key to a driver’s long-term satisfaction, it’s the recruiter who makes that all-important first impression. At first, that person is the face of the company to that driver, and they set the tone for everything that follows, starting with orientation.
“A lot of carriers have underestimated the value of the first impression,” Hindes said. “A lot of carriers need to stop and ask, when was the last time they looked at their orientation process. Most of them are cookie-cutter, they’re orientating their drivers the same way they were 12, 15 years ago.
“I tell carriers the most critical call a driver is going to make is the first call at break, when they’re out in the parking lot, they pick up the phone and they’re calling home. And they’re answering the most obvious question: ‘How do you like it? Did you choose the right company?’ At that point they only got experience with the recruiter, and about three hours with other people.”
Orientation, Hindes said, is where the first impression with the recruiter is tested. One of the most important things that’s going to factor into that impression is whether the driver believes the recruiter has been honest. Are the things they’re hearing at orientation matching up with what they were told when they signed on?
Something happened to driver recruiting, Hindes said, and he thinks it goes all the way back to when the CDL laws came into being in the mid-’80s.
“We’ve stopped the traditional process of screening and hiring drivers,” he said. Instead, “some carriers are almost like used car salesmen. You look at some of the marketing literature out there, some of the billboards.”
Carriers need to bear in mind that many drivers have been burned by falsehoods and misrepresentations at former jobs. You can’t even get cute with the truth, Hindes said. If they were told at recruitment they’d be driving a new truck, then at orientation they hear, “Yeah, you’re going to get a new truck, but that only kicks in after you’ve been here nine months,” drivers aren’t going to take that as a half-truth; that was a lie.
They have to hear the same thing at recruitment that they hear at orientation, Hindes said, and then that better be the way it is once they get out there.
While this report does not delve directly into the honesty-in-recruitment issue, Hindes believes the implications of the study bear out what he’s saying.
“We as an industry have to be much more transparent with drivers,” he said. “We have to stop marketing practices that are misleading, because they’re not helping you. They’re actually hurting you. That’s the biggest takeaway I’d like to see come out of this.”
To obtain a free copy of Stay Metrics’ new whitepaper, “Is Early Turnover Damaging the Business? How and What Can We Do to Stop It?” visit staymetrics.com.
Klint Lowry has been a journalist for over 20 years. Prior to that, he did all kinds work, including several that involved driving, though he never graduated to big rigs. He worked at newspapers in the Detroit, Tampa and Little Rock, Ark., areas before coming to The Trucker in 2017. Having experienced such constant change at home and at work, he felt a certain kinship to professional truck drivers. Because trucking is more than a career, it’s a way of life, Klint has always liked to focus on every aspect of the quality of truckers’ lives.