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.
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.
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