Make driver retention a priority

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The low driver retention rates that are prevalent in the trucking industry are nothing more than a business challenge gone unchecked. Running a successful business is a difficult thing to achieve, no matter what the business.

Being in the trucking industry increases this challenge as it is capital intensive and there are few restrictions to enter the industry, other than money. Now add to this, margins that are razor thin by most standards and you begin to understand how so many new companies pop up.

The small to mid-sized trucking company owner must wear many hats to be successful. They are usually the first dispatcher, the first salesperson, and the first safety manager. This type of pressure can be overwhelming. So, add to these responsibilities the role of retaining drivers and things start to get a little too finite.

Those few companies that go down the road of strategic planning might discuss not only the plan to build the company through additional sales and trucks, but also the infrastructure that needs to be added to accommodate the extra work that is expected.

To some, this entails the additional expense of hiring people before the additional revenue has been secured. This is scary for most entrepreneurs but if not done, things can go quickly off the rails. Spending the day putting out fires because the company is understaffed can wear down not only the business owner but the rest of the staff as well.

Scenario one allows the company time to filter through available candidates and to train them to exactly what is needed. Scenario two puts much more strain on the hiring process, it rushes things and likely shortens the training period for the new hire, leading to performance issues and possibly more fires to put out. At this point, driver retention is not priority one as you have created such a hectic atmosphere that the priorities get blurred as you’re always playing catch up.

There are core fundamentals that need to be in place when talking about driver retention, which are nicely displayed in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

I can usually hold a group’s attention with this discussion when I do presentations. The concept can be absorbed by most folks – they get it.

What they have a much harder time understanding is that not only is this a foundational concept of retention. It is one that needs to be brought along slowly and thoroughly. It is not something that can be muscled into place or that happens naturally. I have talked to many owners who want to act first and plan later. It’s the old joke of shoot first and ask second. Then they are confused because things don’t change.

(Illustration: iStock)

Abraham Maslow put forth the theory that each of us are motivated by a series of priorities that drive our daily decisions. It looks like this: First we need sustenance (food) which in trucking means wages. How much are you going to pay me? This relates to respect as well.

Next, we need to be safe. We need shelter. In trucking, this means how old is the truck? What is the reputation of the fleet I am working for?

The third level is a need for belonging. This requires communication. We are social mammals. How does the company interact with its drivers? Is it effective, is it consistent, does it give me valuable and useful information?

The fourth level is self-esteem or recognition. We need feedback and acknowledgment for what we do for the business. No one wants to feel taken advantage of, or taken for granted. Finally, the fifth level is self-actualization: I plan on being the best I can be in this profession, does this company provide me the tools and educational opportunities to advance in my chosen field?

The above holds the key to the kingdom for driver retention. It is the holy grail, in my opinion. As I have said many times before though, this is a complex issue for most trucking companies and it took years to manifest.

Do not fool yourself into thinking that there are any quick fixes to getting things under control. There are many vendors who have jumped on the pain that many companies suffer from. The return on investment for these services is usually attractive when you compare the average cost to hire a driver, which ranges between $6,000 and $12,000. The question becomes, what level of retention can we achieve and sustain?

Now take one of these products and nest it inside a company that has decided that driver retention will be the primary focus of the business and you have a good opportunity to make lasting change.

It’s always been confusing to me that when something threatens the trucking industry or individual trucking company, they will pivot on a dime to manage their way through whatever obstacle appears. But when it comes to the topic of driver retention, many simply look for ways to find new drivers rather than stop and try to find a way to stem the leakage of drivers from their companies.


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Mr. Ray Haight has enjoyed a successful career in transportation starting as a company driver and Owner Operator logging over one million accident free miles prior to starting his own company. After stepping down from a successful career managing one of Canada’s 50 largest trucking companies, Ray focused on industry involvement including terms as Chairman of each of the following, the Truckload Carriers Association, Professional Truck Drivers Institute, North American Training and Management Institute and the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities voluntary apprenticeship of Tractor Trailer Commercial Driver, along with many other business interests, he enjoys a successful consulting business, also sitting on various Boards of both industry associations a private motor carriers. He is also Co-Founder of StakUp O/A TCAinGauge an online bench marking service designed to assist trucking companies throughout North America focus on efficiency and profitability within their operations.

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