What is ‘just a driver’ syndrome?

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Truck drivers are the lifeblood of the transportation industry. Quite simply, without truck drivers, none of us would have jobs. They literally keep it moving and are absolutely integral to any successful company. Which makes it even more confusing as to why truck drivers do not get anywhere close to the amount of respect that they deserve.

A major contributing factor to this is a disease I refer to as JAD Syndrome, more commonly known as “Just a Driver” Syndrome. What is this fictitious disease that I have created? It is the only reasonable explanation as to why drivers are not respected by many of their industry peers, not to mention the general public.

Frustrated Caucasian Semi Truck Driver Having Problem with His Truck and Job.
(Photo: istock)

When a driver is stuck at a pick up or delivery for many hours, often only earning a meager hourly rate after two unpaid hours of waiting, it is considered acceptable since they are “just a driver.” Or if a driver is upset about something and preparing to leave the company, and the dispatcher or operations manager says, “oh well, we can replace them, they are just a driver.” When their concerns or ideas are dismissed without a second thought, when there is a discrepancy in pay, or when they are talked down to by someone in office, it is accepted because they are “just a driver.”

Why is this the mentality at the majority of companies? Do they not realize how difficult it is to operate a truck? The skill involved in not only maneuvering a heavy vehicle at a fast speed, but also being aware of the many distracted drivers on the road? Do they not recognize the sacrifices that these drivers make, the long hours that they spend away from their families, eating junk at truck stops and using some of the grossest bathrooms known to man? Most importantly, do they not comprehend that truck drivers are people too?

Just-a-Driver Syndrome is contagious

One of the worst parts about JAD syndrome is how contagious it is. It spreads quickest when it starts at the top with senior leadership, but can also spread when it starts on the operations floor. When staff members see that this level of disrespect is tolerated, it eventually becomes the norm. The drivers might put up with it for awhile since they are so used to it, but it will not be long before they are perusing job boards or websites looking for a new place to work. It seems pretty obvious that this is a major factor when it comes to the driver shortage that most companies are complaining about.

The good news is there is a cure and it is a simple one. Show your appreciation to drivers on a regular basis. It does not have to be a fancy gift or massive increase in pay. Use your words and be sincere. If you see someone exhibiting signs of JAD, call them out on it. Sometimes people will say the right things in front of a driver but will show their true feelings when talking to other office staff; this too is unacceptable and should be called out.

I have seen it before where a disrespectful dispatcher has caused multiple drivers to leave a company. You would think that the company would smarten up and terminate the dispatcher, but the dispatcher is deemed tougher to replace than the drivers. I believe that to be grossly inaccurate, though not everyone feels that way.

Next time you hear someone say that a driver is “Just a Driver,” think of this column. Think if you want to be one of the companies that is a revolving door for drivers to come and go, or if you would prefer to be a place where drivers strive to be. You do not need a vaccine or any medication to cure your company of Just a Driver Syndrome, you just need to remind all your staff the important role that drivers have in our industry and to not tolerate the mistreatment that is far too common.

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Mike Zelek has been working in transportation for more than 10 years. He has worked in logistics, dispatch and recruiting before settling into his role as vice-president of human resources at Wellington Group of Companies.

Mike was named the National Recruiter of the Year at the National Recruiting and Retention Symposium in 2021 and has led Wellington to three straight years of being named one of the Truckload Carriers Association's Best Fleets to Drive For.

He has presented at many industry events and currently volunteers on several transportation related committees.

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  • They definitely Not Just a Driver, They are ” Steering Wheel Holders”. As far as the lifeline to basic life necessity, we all play a part. Look Dude I watched Trucking life go from a seemingly manageable amount of equipment hauling our Nations goods to this over crowed cesspool of Commercial drivers.
    A skilled Driving work force you claim. I beg to differ. Todays steering wheel holders are outcomes of an over zealous Government looking for ways to ” Employ People”. That’s it. When regulatory bodies changed the rules of Trucking the intention was clear. People need work, and trucking satisfies all the earmarks of so called safety advocacy groups and un knowledgeable Governmental Representatives that know nothing about our Highways saga.
    After reading your gibberish about todays truck driver and all sacrifice they give to drive those tremendously big vehicles at highway speed and navigate through cities makes me nauseous.
    We life in time where just a Driver is Truly “Just a Driver”.
    Sorry to Burst your Bubble but my 40 plus years of experiencing Trucking in one form or another says ” what have they (regulators) allowed to happen. Trucking is saturated with road Driving Idiots. The mentality of a Bakery worked turned “Professional Driver”. It’s sad and it sucks but that’s the way it is.
    I am truly sorry for your time weathered vision of Trucking Life. You’d make a Great Representative like that Todd guy from the owner operator thing. He’s lost too.

    • There is a big difference between a professional driver and someone that does it because it is a means to an end; these would be the “steering wheel holders” that you refer to.
      The professional drivers that I deal with are far more than just a driver. And to be clear, that is not just drivers who work for my company, but includes the drivers that I have come to know over the past 10+ years.
      Are there some bad truck drivers on the road? Absolutely. That is a combination of our government not providing the proper tools for training and of trucking companies not allocating enough resources to train the newly licensed drivers that they do have.

  • I’ve called out shippers/receivers, dispatchers, shop managers and owners of companies for this behaviour. I don’t care if their precious little feelings get hurt. Disrespect me and you will know it. Drivers need to start standing up for themselves, unfortunately very few do. I’ve pulled away from docks without cargo because the shipper jerked me around, told off a few people in my thirty eight years of driving what they can do, because I could care less of what they think of me. If your offended by what you just read then you are guilty of this behaviour.

  • In a recent drivers meeting with all present I have made it very clear to my office staff from dispatchers to managers from receptionists to Human Resources that us ‘drivers’ are the only revenue earners to the company and that they are an expense. We make the money and that the are MY support staff. This wasn’t received well of course . A few drivers supported what I said. Others say on their hands and looked sheepishly at the floor. All I can say is now I am not JAD in their eyes.
    I’d like to add not only are we drivers we are front line customer service for the company and I have turned many customers from giving up on a company I worked for to loyal long term customers just from me being the best rep I can be. Many times I am name hired by these companies them saying if you don’t send him we’ll get another company to pull the load. Companies never recognize this.
    Drive safe professionals

  • The trucking industry as a whole has taken a hit. With wages finally coming up to a standard is the greatest step companies can take. If you don’t pay a driver their worth then that’s the start of “Just a Driver Syndrome”.
    Licensing of new drivers is an all around joke. We will graduate license a car driver but not a driver hauling 80000-120000 lbs? Drivers used to be revered, respected and admired, now were just another idiot on the road….until we’re needed. Covid proved that. We were essential, then back to our “idiot” status in a heart beat.
    I’ve driven truck now for over 30 yrs and it is a passion. I know people half my age that just cringe if they have to do 8 hours extra a week. My average week is 60-70 hrs. To put it into perspective the average adult works 90000 hours from age 20 to age 65 working 40 hour work weeks. Truck drivers are 120000-130000 hrs and retire with the same gov’t pension. Again it’s a passion.
    All people need to realize is that everything moves by truck at some point. The old saying is, “If you bought it, a truck brought it!”
    Safe travels all!!