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Driver incentives pay off

Fleet managers tend to echo a common refrain when they reject the concept of driver incentive programs. "The driver is already paid to do a good job," they suggest, questioning how the related costs c...


Ross Johnson and Yves-Yvon Mercier
Ross Johnson and Yves-Yvon Mercier

Fleet managers tend to echo a common refrain when they reject the concept of driver incentive programs. “The driver is already paid to do a good job,” they suggest, questioning how the related costs can be justified.

But these initiatives should be seen as a valuable investment into the business.

When they are properly managed, the incentives can help fleets retain drivers and support the habits that will improve everything from accident records to fuel economy, all of which will have a direct impact on the bottom line.

The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council has determined that it costs $10,000 to replace an experienced driver; an average property damage collision will cost $12,000; and we all know about the rising cost of fuel.

Who wouldn’t want to address these costs?

A successful program is even based on a form of recognition that will not cost a dime, and it comes in the form of a heartfelt word of thanks.

Everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done, and the accolades take on an added meaning when they are delivered in front of peers. Congratulatory letters should be posted on the bulletin board for fellow employees to see, along with the charts that show the ranking of each driver in terms of everything from safe driving records to idle time.

These visible reminders will even establish an unofficial competition among the drivers who want to be the best.

Related rewards do not need to break the bank, either. It certainly makes sense to reward the safest driver with a well-paying dedicated run, or the opportunity to drive the newest power unit in the fleet. Simple gifts in the form of a hat, pen or coffee shop gift card will also help to punctuate the all-important thank-you.

Tangible rewards can actually be more effective than cash in an envelope.

Any professional driver will wear a ‘Million Safe Miles’ patch with pride, giving them the chance to boast about their achievements without saying a word.

Long after a financial bonus is spent, meanwhile, the prize in the form of a microwave or TV will continue to be a lasting reminder of the actions that led to the reward.

Some larger fleets have even introduced programs that allow drivers to accumulate the points to “buy” products from a catalogue full of rewards, encouraging employees to remain with the company as they save up for a special purchase.

Just remember that these programs involve administrative costs. Someone will need to track the accumulated points and update the items in the catalogue on a regular basis. (It’s doubtful anyone will want to save points to buy an eight-track player or lava lamp).

Family members can also be included in the rewards. One fleet, for example, sends grocery certificates to the spouses of drivers who go three months without an accident.

Now, whenever the company’s drivers phone home, their families are quick to encourage safe driving habits. In effect, they have become extensions of the company’s safety department.

Of course, safety bonuses have also been established in the compensation packages that are paid throughout the trucking industry, but the fleets that embrace these incentives need to ensure that the related programs are properly managed.

For example, the promise of any rewards will need to be based on reasonable targets that drivers feel they can achieve. Excessive targets will be recognized as an empty promise and actually discourage employees from trying to improve their habits.

The timing of the payments is equally important. If the employees are recognized every three months, someone who is involved in a minor collision in January can be confident that they will be recognized for their safe driving habits during the remainder of the year.

The frequency of the payments can also be used to monitor a driver’s actions before they become a problem.

By raising a red flag whenever a driver misses his logbook bonus for three months in a row, for example, one fleet has been able to target the employees who require additional training. Future fines are avoided before they occur.

And managers can always monitor the true value of the program by tracking the benchmarks that the incentives were meant to address in the first place.

A few simple calculations will prove that the limited investments represent money well spent.

– This month’s experts are Yves-Yvon Mercier and Ross Johnson. Yves-Yvon Mercier is a senior advisor in Markel’s Safety and Training Services, Eastern Canada Region in Montreal. Ross Johnson is a senior advisor in the Ontario Region. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column to info@markel.ca. Markel Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers.


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