Layoff approaches, relationships key to the return of furloughed drivers

Eric Berard

MONTREAL, Que. — For a host of different reasons, a large number of trucking companies have had to downsize because of the economic impact of Covid-19. But the early approach to related layoffs will determine whether employees remain loyal and return to the jobs in the future.

Depending on the financial situation, fleets can opt for a furlough rather than requiring a layoff, says Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada.

If furloughs are necessarily, it’s important to emphasize their temporary nature, she adds. Return-to-work bonuses could also maximize the chances of a truck driver’s return.

(Photo: iStock)

But the quality and authenticity of relationships between bosses and employees remain the key to a successful temporary separation, Splinter says.

“It’s challenging doing it face to face, but how it is communicated is very important. There’s no ideal time to lay somebody off. But I would say just doing it with empathy and with caring and just being as open in your communications and as transparent as you can with your employees.”

Such transparency might simply involve describing the loss of a particular contract, and how it affects a certain company division, or by presenting the rehiring plan.

“I think it just resonates when employees know that you’re being honest with them,” she said.

She also believes that employers can retain these temporarily laid-off employees by accompanying and supporting them at the start of the process and by ensuring a follow-up.

“Direct employees to any relief measures that they can access,” she explains. And to maintain a sense of belonging, ensure they continue to receive company newsletters.

“Even reaching out to them personally. Calling them up and just checking in,” Splinter adds. “You’re letting them know you care about them. Keeping lines of communication open, employees will remember that.”

Hiring a laid-off driver costs a lot less than starting the whole hiring process with an outside candidate. According to Splinter, the latter option can cost $7,500 to $15,000, depending on the extent of onboarding processes.

The fear of seeing laid-off drivers being hired by a competing fleet is very real.

“Right now that’s fine, but when and if consumer demand starts back up again, I predict eventually we’re going to be back into that perennial driver shortage,” she says.

The driver shortage may even be compounded by the fact that some drivers will leave the industry for good after a layoff.

“The other concern we’re seeing is some of the older drivers, they’re leaving and they won’t come back,” she said. “For some drivers, it was the final straw. They just didn’t want to put themselves at a higher risk. They don’t want to put their families at risk. Or the working conditions were such that they’re saying ‘I’m leaving’.”

Splinter says that every fleet manager she talks to experiences some of these cases in the workplace.

While the industry’s public opinion has improved in the eyes of the general public, that isn’t expected to end recruiting challenges.

Worries of an intensifying truck driver shortage continue, even in the midst of today’s economic downturn.

Depending on the age group, 32-35% of those surveyed by Abacus Data said they would be willing to consider a career in trucking. This is despite the fact that 29% have a higher opinion of trucking than before then pandemic.

They continue to perceive barriers such as a poor work-family balance, high training costs, and a lack of respect for the trucking jobs.

“It’s improved a bit but we still have hurdles,” Splinter says of the public perception. “We’re still not the top choice for young people when they’re looking for some of those blue-collar-type careers.”

As future job opportunities emerge, she expects Covid-19 to be part of the recruiting discussions. For example, employers might need to emphasize the safety of work environments, or the availability of personal protective equipment.

“That would be a new focus right now,” she says.

Eric Berard

Eric Berard is a journalist and translator specialized in trucking and logistics. Multiple award winner over his 30-year career, he contributes to trade publications such as Today's Trucking, Truck News and Transport Routier, as he previously did for Montreal daily newspapers La Presse's and Le Devoir's financial pages. With Political Analysis as a university educational background, he’s comfortable with topics that cover a wide spectrum of our society . He can be reached at eric.berard@videotron.ca

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