It’s time to address driver burnout

Rolf Lockwood

There’s a reason why your rear-facing mirrors are small and your windshield is so much bigger — because there’s not often a good reason to look back and it’s always mighty important to look ahead. Or so I read in a recent meme seen on Facebook. It rings true for me, and rarely has some little piece of wisdom seemed more appropriate than it does now.

It will do us no good to look back and moan about the year we’ve just finished. It was awful in a way we’ve never seen “awful” before. But much as I want to be optimistic, and there are some reasons to be so, the reality is that little is likely to change for quite a while.

driver mental health
(Illustration: istock)

Most people see some special symbolism in the launch of a new year, the moment of a new start, but not me. Never have. It’s just an arbitrary calendar flip after all. We’re still bound by winter, the smart ones among us are still wearing masks and staying home, and in my locked-down neck of the woods I can’t go wandering around the used book store I discovered in the small town we just moved to. So be it. I accept the situation without complaint.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, rather, realistic, and I think the expectation that we’ll magically return soon to the good old days of 2019 is misguided. I don’t even want that, because those days were full of inequities and failings that still need to be fixed.

I feel strongly about something that’s been going on for years without getting enough attention, namely driver burnout. Now is the time to do something about it because it’s only been getting worse over the past 10 months. Let’s move on this.

When the pandemic first overwhelmed us, freight-hauling truckers were immediately seen as frontline workers but rarely treated as such. Restaurants blocked them from using restrooms, and shippers/receivers were no more welcoming. Even a fast-food meal was hard to come by. Yet drivers kept driving. They’ve never stopped, ever more fearful that by being out and about they’d catch the dreaded virus and bring it back home with them.

The thing is, driver burnout was a huge issue before all this happened, yet I’ve always had the feeling that it was swept under the rug. By drivers themselves as much as by fleet managers and supervisors. Big mistake.

According to driver-retention specialist Workhound, borrowing from the World Health Organization definition, “Burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

Any of that sound familiar, driver?

Apparently, drivers experience the three “dimensions” in a specific order, says Workhound.

First comes exhaustion, “Characterized by loneliness, fatigue, emotionally tired, stressed by interactions with others.”

Then it’s cynicism, which brings on a mental distancing from work and likely coworkers, accompanied by a negative tone and often damaged relationships.

Finally we have inefficacy, arked by a driver feeling unproductive or incapable of succeeding due to a lack of skills or resources, perhaps feeling overwhelmed by government regulations and long wait times while resenting the employer for not helping. The real result is a lack of trust in the organization.

All of this, along with suggested remedies, is included in Driver Burnout: The Guide, a small document available from the Workhound website. I’m definitely not in the business of promoting this or any other company but if you’re a manager or driver supervisor, you might well find it instructive. A lot of this is common sense, frankly.

The proposed remedy that I find most useful is one that you might use to combat cynicism. You can fight driver isolation within the company, and drivers feeling under-appreciated, by getting them to meet with accounts “to set better expectations and promote leadership.” I know of only one fleet that’s done this but by all accounts it promoted a sense of belonging and getting customers to understand and appreciate drivers more. That’s no bad thing.

 

 

 

 

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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  • I have been in and out of homeless shelters in the past 7 years after my house was damaged. Driver ( burnout) is a very big problem. I think a group of trucking companies gov and industry leaders should go together with a non profit group and set minimum standards for truck drivers treatment and work to have a group home that can hold between 15 to 19 truck driver as a place to stay get medical and mental help to try to get these people back into productive lives. Both the Ont and Fed gov will provide a good portion of the funding for upgrades or repairs needed and approx 69 percent of the operations ( costs). This a very good time to do this as the homeless shelters are now turning away former truck drivers and L T C homes are not good solution. 5195239586 Many people know I have came down very hard on some of the trucking companies and the O T A but after talking to the current leadership I believe truck drivers and trucking companies and receivers can work together.

  • Hello Mr. Rolf Lockwood,
    I am so glad to have read your article about safety. “Parking” I would like to create a Pilot Program for Parking. I would love to tell you about it and get your advise.
    Parking is all about safety!
    Please contact me susandavis9808@sbcglobal.net

  • Burnout? Yes but when your wage doesn’t pay the bills, doesn’t help! All these retention specialist are not needed! Problem is pay! When a Walmart driver in the USA earns $85,000 and a Canadian Walmart driver earns $45,000 you know something is wrong. I talked to a Denny’s waiter in Calgary. He said he stopped driving because.22 cents per mile as a Team driver wasn’t enough. Ya Think?

  • Hey there good buddy, long time no see – and good to see you here!

    Scott Tilly brought your article to my attention becauae he’s concerned more about burnout affecting safety than driver retention (luckily we don’t suffer that issue) and that’s my bailiwick. Burnout is not only physical, but intellectual and even spiritual, so this topic is of critical importance. Thanks for the emphasis.

  • Great article! Even though I’m just getting around to reading it now I guess that’s why I never get rid off old emails unless I’ve gone through them thoroughly. I feel like the last 2-3 years in trucking haven’t really been that positive on a number of things. As an Owner/0perator in the industry for 25 years certainly seen alot change good and bad.
    First off the insurance industry is trying to break us with ridiculous premiums! No pressure rite! Big carriers want you to work 14 -16 hrs a day , no pressure! And pay you just enough to survive or show no profit! Big problem and headaches! Equipment costs , maintenance costs, liabilitys , seniority issues, the list goes on! No wonder a huge percentage of drivers are physically and mentally burned out by the stress thats being put their shoulders every day. the industry needs a big wake up call and quit trying to sweep crap under the rug continues ly.