Little things can help protect against the Great Resignation

Challenger Motor Freight’s Bob Hagen and Paul Richmond are a rare breed, each having recorded more than 3 million miles without an at-fault collision. It’s an astounding accomplishment by every measure, and something to celebrate.

They also share a troubling opinion.

When we sat down to discuss their careers and experiences, the lifelong drivers dropped a few comments about workers who approach trucking as a stepping stone to other jobs and industries. It led me to ask if they believe there are many future 3-million-milers within their midst.

They were quick to say no.

Great job icon
(Illustration: istock)

There are a variety of reasons. Trucking – just like every other job – continues to evolve, changing the nature of underlying tasks. Long-time drivers originally attracted by the sense of independence have been known to balk at the tighter schedules and oversight that are a reality in a modern business. Even as the physical task of driving becomes more comfortable, thanks to advances in trucks themselves, it can be grueling, isolating work.

The job is not for everyone. It never has been.

But there is also a reason to believe that employers might soon experience a surge in retention-related challenges.

Results from several surveys are warning of a phenomenon dubbed the Great Resignation. Beaten down by the stress, workloads, and isolation that emerged during Covid-19, many young employees appear to be reconsidering priorities in life. Older workers responding to the same stresses may simply decide it’s time to retire.

While the surveys have largely focused on white collar workers, there is no reason to believe trucking will be immune from the phenomenon. Fleets would be well advised to review the steps they take to retain existing employees.

The first strategies that jump to mind would likely focus on wages, paid downtime, equipment condition, and the hours or miles of work. Each is vital. Forward-thinking fleets have introduced benefits as varied as mentorship programs, in-house gyms, and expanded employee benefits as well.

But there are other intangibles to consider. Every employee wants to feel valued and respected. Steps to demonstrate thanks and show appreciation make a difference. Ask anyone how they feel when offered an attaboy or attagirl for a going above and beyond the call of duty.

We saw signs of this at the height of the pandemic, when there were messages aplenty that thanked truckers who kept society rolling despite the lockdowns. Largely, though, we’re back to business as usual.

It’s easy to fall into the grind of focusing on tasks and forget to thank the people behind them. Sometimes we can benefit from a gentle reminder.

National Trucking Week offers us one of those opportunities. The event that runs from the first Sunday in September until the following Saturday – that’s Sept. 5-11 this year – offers a formal time to thank the trucking industry’s frontline workers for all they do.

There’s no reason to expect a parade, and no statutory holiday in the works. But fleets can find other ways to celebrate. Maybe it involves approaching a local council to ask it to formally recognize the week – bringing some media attention to the work of truckers. A barbecue in the fleet yard, or steps to formally recognize long-serving employees are among the other options. Maybe it’s time to reorder some company swag to help reinforce the image of a team.

They’re little things, but they can mean a lot.

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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