There is a direct correlation between high driver morale and high driver productivity. The converse is also true. The hidden cost of low driver morale has a direct bearing on a company’s bottom line. The impact of positive and negative driver morale is one of the least discussed aspects of fleet management.
The impact of low driver morale is most apparent in the trucking industry. Today’s improving national economy and lower diesel prices are creating an uptick in truck tonnage, with the trucking industry transporting almost 70% of the freight shipped in the U.S. This demand has accentuated the widespread driver shortage, particularly at long-haul fleets. The driver shortage is not a new phenomenon. For the past several decades that I have been covering the trucking market, there has always been an ongoing driver shortage. The primary catalyst was the deregulation of the trucking industry by the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 that triggered a proliferation of new trucking companies, which, in turn, increased the demand for drivers. The intense competition created by deregulation exerted downward pressure on trucking rates, which translated into lower driver wages and morale.
One impact of low driver morale is higher driver turnover, which negatively impacts productivity by the need for continual training of replacement drivers. Another consequence is increased employee absenteeism, which also leads to reduced productivity. Likewise, drivers with low morale are less customer-focused and are prone to lose interest in going the extra mile.
There are approximately 5.7 million commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers, but this isn’t sufficient to meet current industry needs. In a study by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), it estimates that the industry has a shortage of nearly 48,000 drivers, which, if current trends hold, may balloon to a shortage of 175,000 drivers by 2024. Although state motor vehicle departments issue hundreds of thousands of new commercial driver’s licenses each year, it isn’t enough to stem the turnover of dissatisfied entry-level drivers who leave the industry each year or replace the growing number of aging baby boomers who are retiring. Approximately one-third of drivers, in one industry survey, said they plan to leave the trucking industry in the next five years.
How Fleet can Improve Driver Morale
While low morale is an HR/management issue, and even though fleet managers do not control driver salaries, there are actions that fleets can take to help increase driver morale:
Spec more ergonomic vehicles: Fleet managers can make vehicles more ergonomic for drivers by proactively identifying potential issues and rectifying them before they impact morale, or, in worst case situations, result in injuries. Improved ergonomics can also have a significant impact in reducing workers’ compensation costs, improving user productivity, and decreasing fatigue-induced driver errors that can lead to preventable accidents.
Use technology to make a driver’s job easier: Fleet managers can incorporate productivity tools, such as onboard computers, mobile office accessories, and telematics.
Better communication between fleet and drivers: Drivers welcome communication from the fleet department so long as you keep it short and make it pertinent to their job. Build into every message a feedback mechanism to allow engagement by the driver or field manager.
Create driver recognition programs: Recognize drivers for safe driving records, those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in fulfilling their job, or those who have been complimented by customers.
Provide an open forum to hear driver concerns: Create a driver focus group, with rotating members, and hold periodic meetings to solicit feedback on the fleet program. As part of your annual fleet policy review, survey drivers to give them an opportunity to express their opinions or dissatisfaction about fleet policies that govern them. This a terrific opportunity to keep your ear to the ground, identify new issues as they are emerging and receive honest feedback from drivers — all of which will make you a better fleet manager and help improve driver morale.
In addition to these suggestions, there are five other reasons why fleet managers should strive to improve driver morale:
- Happy employees take better care of corporate assets in terms of exterior appearance, interior cleanliness, and timely reporting of maintenance issues.
- Drivers with high morale tend to comply with fleet policy guidelines and requirements.
- They are less likely to abuse a fleet vehicle and more likely to care for it as they would a personal vehicle.
- Satisfied employees tend to drive their vehicles less aggressively, which will lead to measurable decreases in traffic violations, preventable accidents, and reduced corporate liability exposure.
- Happy drivers result in happy fleet managers.
Let me know what you think.