American Trucker Magazine
American Trucker What Drivers Want cover story image

What Drivers Want

Feedback from 8,500 truckers finds people-related issues top list of concerns

When 8,500 truckers talk, people listen.


Actually, the truckers in question didn’t ‘talk,’ per se; they answered survey questions recently about who they are, what they want, where they’ve been, and more.


It all came about via a unique “instantaneous feedback” platform developed by WorkHound specifically for “distributed workforces” and used by trucking companies in the truckload (TL) sector to identify and respond to truck driver concerns.
It found that “people-related” issues are at the top of a trucker’s list of concerns.


In a recent conference call with reporters hosted by research firm Stifel Capital Markets, WorkHound’s CEO and co-founder Max Farrell and chief technology officer and co-founder Andrew Kirpalani said the top four themes are, in order, people, equipment, logistics and pay. In total, those four issues represented about 64% of mentions received across the company’s platform.


“Ultimately, the thing that stood out to us is that trucking is still a people business and that relationships ultimately matter to drivers,” Farrell noted. “In order to facilitate that, we have to make sure that drivers are being respected and get treated well.”
He said one of the “big things” that stood out in WorkHound’s polling was that a “family atmosphere” work environment drew high praise from drivers.


“On the flip side, however, there was mention of rudeness, that drivers feel this behavior is unprofessional and even unsafe,” Farrell noted. “Another thing we see is that drivers don’t feel like the office staff understands the road. Because most [trucking company] office staff hasn’t spent time in a truck, we can understand why drivers would feel there is a lack of empathy.”


Farrell emphasized that a lack of understanding between staff and drivers can start to “create a divide” at trucking firms.


“We’re big fans of a ride-along, whether it’s staff driving with drivers or drivers sitting with dispatch for a day; any opportunity a company can use to create a shared experience goes a long way for both sides to be on the same page and ultimately on the same team,” he said.
WorkHound noted that its survey data comes largely from medium- to large-sized motor carriers employing at least 100 drivers or more across a range of sectors: tanker, reefer, dry van, flatbed, and expedited.


Most of the 8,500 drivers polled work in long-haul operations (81%) and are company drivers; only 11% say they are owner-operators.


WorkHound added that, based on its data, the average truck driver age right now is hovering around 49 years old, with some reports showing it’s even older, beyond 50 in some cases.


The survey found that fleet management decisions regarding equipment specifications can end up being a turnoff for drivers, especially if the reasoning for those decisions isn’t shared across a motor carrier’s workforce.


Farrell said that drivers often don’t feel consulted in regard to some of the equipment spec’ing decisions made by the fleets they work for.


“Motor carriers usually have strong reasons as to why equipment decisions are made, but drivers don’t often understand the thoughts behind those decisions,” Farrell explained, adding that issues with equipment ranked second on the list of top four concerns, according to WorkHound’s research.
Take, for example, making the switch from manual gearboxes to automated manual transmissions (AMTs).


“This issue is typically raised by veteran drivers,” he said. “As many companies start to explore the move to an automatic, this frustrates veteran drivers. In a world of constant change, the manual shift [transmission] provides a sense of familiarity, and drivers often point to the fact that the manual shift gives them more control of the truck.”


Drivers also said they feel an AMT or fully auto­matic gearbox actually “limits their control of the truck,” and a similar feeling is expressed in regard to speed-limiting devices.


“Drivers actually see [engine speed] governors as a safety risk, which may be counter-intuitive to how a company sees governors,” Farrell noted. “The drivers often plead that their experience and skill level are being discounted if the truck is being ‘handicapped’ or governed, if you will.”


Ultimately, he said there “seems to be a lack of understanding” around why the company speed-limits its trucks, whether it’s for fuel economy gains or safety reasons.


Stronger negative feelings arose when the subject turned to driver-facing cameras. “The overwhelming consensus, as you all can imagine, is that drivers feel like they’re getting spied on,” Farrell stressed. “The detail around that is that drivers feel like they’re being spied on in their home, because for the majority of the drivers that we are engaging [with], these are over-the-road drivers,” he emphasized.


“[To them] these are not simply cameras that are activated only by [traffic] incidents,” he continued. “There is the concern that they’re being watched and as a result feel their privacy is violated, and there’s not much trust as a result.”


Farrell noted that while many fleet decisions are made with cost, safety, or fuel efficiency in mind, drivers often don’t see any direct benefit to those changes.


“Ultimately, the truck is the driver’s home and it’s their tool to do their job, so when the tools are changed, this creates frustration because these changes are really personal to drivers,” he stressed. “It’s like changing a carpenter’s tools; yes, the carpenter can still do the job, but there’s frustration around the lack of choice and a lack of understanding about whether the new tools are helping them improve the job.”


Still, Farrell noted that the motor carriers WorkHound consults with are starting to change their approach in this arena.


“There’s a move [by] companies to improve communication here, and we’re starting to see more of the explanation around why things are the way they are,” he said. “Still, there’s always room for improvements.”


Though pay and bonus packages continue to increase for both company drivers and owner-operators across the industry, the often-obscured issue of how they are paid and the consistency of their wages is becoming a more critical factor.


For instance, according to the survey, drivers are calculating their miles independent of the motor carriers they work for—and that number almost never matches up, noted Farrell. “Carriers paying by the mile are typically paying [in] household goods mileage or sometimes in practical miles, but this still leaves a discrepancy to drivers that needs to be explained,” he noted.


“One of the big discussion points we hear is, ‘I was not paid what I was promised.’ In trucking, especially, recruiters are promising the ‘high deal’ scenario—what drivers should expect to earn at a company if all of the verifiable employment information is correct and the driver gets all of the miles,” he emphasized. “But this is trucking, and perfect doesn’t often happen. So as a result, drivers don’t get all of their verifiable employment information or the freight isn’t great that particular week.”


Reimbursements and detention pay are two other big topics.


“Due to the nature of trucking, drivers often rely on reimbursements for tolls or weigh scale [fees], and the process for reimbursement can be deceiving for drivers, especially newcomers to the industry or to a particular company,” Farrell said. “We also see challenges with detention pay as drivers may have to take several steps to ensure that their detention pay is recorded so they can be properly compensated for that time.”


WorkHound’s Andrew Kirpalani noted that “happiness is the smallest amount of difference between expectations and reality” and, based on his firm’s feedback data, it’s the little things that matter in the trucking business, especially when it comes to pay.


“The opportunities to go above and beyond can make the difference between an engaged and happy driver and a driver that is frustrated,” he explained. “But nobody has found the perfect mix.”


For example, Kirpalani pointed to issues surrounding bonus money.


“We get comments about bonuses that are really about them being taken away for certain things,” he said. “The thing about bonuses—and I personally have done this with consulting work—is when a bonus is promised or suggested to somebody, you really start to expect it right away. And if that bonus is pulled for something, especially for something somebody sees as trivial, that creates a lot of frustration.”


Kirpalani said WorkHound’s feedback data indicated, for instance, that drivers would get their safety bonus pulled because they’re not able to attend a safety conference call—even though they’re on the road.


“Again, that creates a lot of frustration, so it’s [back to] happiness; the littlest possible difference between expectations and reality,” he said. “If you set that expectation of a bonus, you really need to do everything you can to deliver on that bonus, and especially when it comes to trivial or minor infractions, recognize that you damage your credibility by pulling bonuses for minor factors.”


“While trucking is thought of as independent and entrepreneurial, many drivers have very little control over the details of their work,” said Farrell. “Their livelihood requires them to keep moving, and they often don’t have the power to make that happen. To put it concisely, inefficiency is a driver’s worst nightmare, and drivers have a keen eye for this.


“We really believe that if you let your drivers be your eyes and ears on the road, they will notice the areas that are rocky,” he continued. “It’s likely that the issues they’re running into are also costing you, as the carrier, money. We recommend that trucking firms use the information that drivers share to make a more efficient business decision and make everyone more money as a result.


“One of the big things we heard anecdotally across the industry is that some executives feel that drivers don’t want to work, and one of the things that jumps out at us in the feedback is that drivers do want to work, but they feel extremely limited by industry challenges,” Farrell said.
He cautioned that it is important to listen to drivers now because even with all the talk about autonomous trucks, humans will still be in control for the foreseeable future.


“Obviously, everyone likes to talk about automated trucks, but the reality is that you’re not going to have some kind of a click where automated trucks come out of nowhere and replace every single driver,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing, nothing, nothing, then hundreds of them. It’s going to be a slope of how we start out with drivers entirely, then with kind of a driver that’s augmented by technology, then the technology continues to improve and the technology is doing most of the work, but the driver is still there. Then finally, at quite some time into the future, you may have a fully auto­mated truck.”

 

Driver desires in line with those of others

Another new survey compiled by MetLife was based on interviews with over 1,000 part- and full-time U.S. employees aged 21 and over. “Role of the Company” is aimed to crawl inside the minds of today’s workers and determine what matters most—pay (obviously), work/life balance (a growing must), and the concept of “shared values” between workplace and worker. That is, the values espoused by employees are reflected and championed by the company they work for.


And if they don’t, they may not be working there long.


“As work and life continue to blend together, employees are bringing their personal values into the office and want companies not only to recognize those values, but share them and take action,” noted Jon Richter, vice president of corporate citizenship for MetLife, in the survey.

Fully 9 out of 10 employees (89%) say they are willing to trade some of their salary—a great deal of their salaries in some cases—to work at a company whose values match their own, MetLife found in its poll.


The survey found U.S. workers on average were willing to take a 21% pay cut to work for a company that shares their values.


The importance of aligned values was strongest for millennials, who say they are willing to take the largest pay cut—34% on average—to work for a company that shares their values, MetLife said. While millennials are typically viewed as the most “idealistic generation” in the workforce today, Gen X and baby boomers weren’t far behind: Gen Xers say they are willing to take an 18% pay cut and baby boomers are willing to take 15% to share values with the company where they work.


So, are truck drivers gung ho to start sacrificing pay in order to achieve “value alignment” with the motor carriers they work for? Hardly. But there’s an element to this “shared value” discussion trucking needs to pay attention to, and it’s focused on making truck drivers valued members of a motor carrier’s team.


“Shippers think of us as a commodity, or think of the industry really as a commodity. One of the things that we’ve not done well traditionally as an industry is think of our driver as a team member, as opposed to a unit number or a commodity ourselves,” explained David Carruth, CEO of LTL carrier ONE For Freight, in a recent “virtual roundtable” hosted by Omnitracs.


“To retain a driver, they really want to feel like they’re part of a team as opposed to just their unit number. And with us, when we talk about our drivers, their opinion matters— it’s vital to our success,” he said.


“When we’re [spec’ing] new equipment [and] when we’re buying new equipment, we have our drivers involved in the purchase process. We ask them, ‘What trailers do you want to pull? How do you want it set up? What sort of safety features do you want?’” Carruth noted. “And just as long as we make the driver feel like they’re a part of a team—a part of our culture—it goes to the retention of that driver.”


Tom Cuthbertson, vice president of regulatory and compliance for Omnitracs, said that “drivers always want to make sure the revenue’s there,” meaning they’ve got enough money coming in so they can pay the bills.


“But that team thing, when we rank things, comes up heavy in the discussion about not feeling like they’re an appendage,” he stressed. “They want to feel like they’re part of a team; like people are listening to them. Once in a while, a phone call helps. Those are the kind of things that drivers want to stick around for and why they feel a part of the team— and that’s a big thing in a retention process.”


Carruth added that trucking fleets must realize that drivers are their intermediaries with other companies.


“A lot of times, the driver is really the only human interaction that potentially a shipper could have with a transportation company,” he said. “If that interaction isn’t positive, that’s the last thing that the client or the shipper sees and remembers about our industry.” — S.K.

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