Plan for benefits in driver recruiting, retention

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TORONTO, Ont. — Driver recruiting efforts often focus on factors like the core pay per mile, load or hour. But another form of compensation – in the form of benefits plans designed to be there in a driver’s time of need – has its own role to play in recruiting and retention alike.

It’s about more than dental and drug plans, too.

Look to fleets recognized by Trucking HR Canada’s Top Fleet Employers, or the Best Fleets to Drive For competition, run in a partnership between CarriersEdge and the Truckload Carriers Association. Most of those operations, both big and small, have expanded their offerings in recent years.

Almost all Top Fleet Employers provide at least a basic benefits package – with 99% offering dental coverage and eye care, and 96% providing chiropractic care, physiotherapy or massage. Ninety-six percent offer life insurance, 86% have long-term disability plans, and just over half offer short-term disability support.

“In addition to the basics, 72% offer some form of pension or retirement savings plan for employees,” says Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada. This adds to the 79% that offer professional development opportunities, 62% that offer vacation time beyond statutory requirements, and 77% that have performance bonuses.

But she also notes that 77% of the Top Fleet Employers are showing some commitment to employee health and wellness. All of the private fleets do that, while 81% of for-hire fleets have embraced the programs. Examples include gym memberships and onsite services, Healthy Trucker initiatives, wellness seminars, information through newsletters, and walking groups, Splinter says.

“Through programs like Healthy Trucker, people have really bought into reducing driver health risks by creating a wellness culture,” says Jane Jazrawy of CarriersEdge. But she also says the U.S. carriers participating in the Best Fleets program tend to be leading the charge over their Canadian counterparts in this trend, offering support such as fitness equipment for a cab and sleep apnea testing.

The wellness support is particularly important as the driver pool ages, she adds. “If they haven’t got that emphasis on people trying to keep themselves healthy, they’re losing them just through medical [issues].”

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) go a step further, offering the legal counselling, financial guidance, and even marriage counselling that can play a role in mental wellness.

Flexible approaches

Still, the need for benefits is a very ­personal thing. A drug plan will likely be valued more by someone who is fighting a disease. Chiropractors and ­physiotherapists might be most vital to an employee trying to return to work after a physical injury.

Bill Zolis, a senior employee benefits consultant with Penmore Callery Group, sees several differences that exist among his clients in the trucking industry. “Is it shorthaul or longhaul, independent drivers or employees, going cross border or not?” he says, referring to various considerations. The U.S. medical coverage, for example, is going to be most important for a cross-border driver.

The interest in different plan components can vary from one generation to the next, too. Older employees gravitate to support such as dental coverage and drug plans, the latter of which can account for 80% of their healthcare claims because of factors such as a need for maintenance medication, Zolis says. Younger employees, however, tend to prefer health spending accounts that allow them to direct funds toward massages or fitness memberships.

One emerging benefit that could prove useful for truck drivers is virtual health care, which offers access to a doctor or nurse practitioner around the clock. It could even be valuable closer to home. “The amount of time that’s wasted in the offices. They take three hours to talk to a doctor for 10 minutes,” Zolis says.

“A flexible approach that takes into account what your employees are looking for is essential,” Splinter adds. “Although we may assume that older workers are looking for better drug plans, while younger workers are keener on wellness or complementary therapies like naturopathy, acupuncture, etc., it is important to develop your plan by understanding what your employees are looking for.”

“It will more than likely be very difficult or impossible to offer everything they are looking for. So consider offering a health spending or wellness account. This provides each employee with the ability to claim benefit expenses that either are not offered in the traditional plan or allow someone to claim beyond the maximum that is offered,” she says. “This way you are able to offer greater flexibility to meet the needs of a diverse workforce.”

Total compensation packages

As valued as benefits may be, it can be easy for employees to lose sight of just how much is available for them. It’s why several fleets have also introduced total compensation statements.

“A total compensation statement refers to detailing the overall value of everything you are offering your employees,” Splinter explains. In addition to information about the compensation structure – whether it’s hourly, by mileage, or for wait time – there are figures attached to ­bonuses, vacation days, training allowances, ­benefits programs themselves, wellness or social activities, and pension or retirement savings.

It’s a valuable tool to keep valuable employees.

“In a tight labor market, employees who may be wooed to go to another employer may be comparing pay packages. Your ability to explain all the different ways that you invest in your employees allows you to put your best foot forward in trying to convince that employee to stay,” Splinter says. “It also helps your drivers better communicate your pay package within their grapevine.”

“Definitely it’s a retention strategy if a driver is deciding to leave Company ABC and go to Company D,” Jazrawy says. The lure of $5,000 sign-on bonus may not look as attractive when compared to the total.

A growing number of fleets also appear to be waiving the traditional 90-day period before benefits apply to new recruits, Jazrawy says. They’ll even maintain benefits coverage for a set time frame in case a departing driver decides to come back.

“A lot of people are really concerned about making the drivers’ lives better.”

Controlling the costs

The plans do face pressure, though. Zolis refers to demographic issues such as an aging workforce and a relatively sedentary job that involves sitting in a truck cab for hours on end. They’re factors that lead to increases in disability issues and higher related prescription plan costs, he says. “They [drivers] are a higher risk. They’re on the road all the time. They don’t live the best lifestyle … Traditionally it has and continues to be a challenging industry for group ­disability markets.”

“There’s some [insurance] carriers that don’t want them,” he adds, referring to the choices available to fleets. The coverage that is available can sometimes offer less support than would be available to an office worker. A disability-related benefit, for example, might be capped after two or five years.

As of June 2016, long-term disability incidence rates for Canadian group insurance companies are also up 19.6% since 2007, says the Munich Re LTD incidence indicator. The number of claims has increased year over year because of factors like an aging population, and a higher number of complex claims that are more difficult to manage.

To ensure a plan is sustainable, steps need to be taken to reign in costs. Arrangements with preferred pharmacy partners, for example, can help to reduce markup and dispensing fees, Zolis says. The drugs are simply delivered by courier the next day.

Educating employees will make a difference of its own. Simply having them ask a dentist for the work that’s required, rather than telling the caregivers what a plan will cover, will help to cap the overall costs. “You’ve got to treat it like your money,” Zolis says.

“I want [benefits] sustained over the long term, and the only way [to do that] is if we all do something collectively.”


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

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