Reducing Turnover: How to Prevent Driver Burnout


Burnout knows no occupational limit and has been observed across every profession. Some professions, however, display higher rates of burnout among workers than others and with truck driving especially, burnouts can happen quite often. With trucking’s soaring turnover rates, it’s important for both drivers and fleet managers to prevent driver burnout.

Though the term “burnout” is commonly invoked to refer to a state of motivational exhaustion, the concept itself did not enter popular consciousness until the 1980 publication of psychologist Herbert Freudenberger’s book, Burn Out: The High Cost of Achievement.

To understand burnout, it is necessary to regard it as more than just physical exhaustion, but rather as a constellation of three interrelated stages of exhaustion coupled with a profound loss of motivation.

Stage 1: Physical and mental motivational exhaustion

Though it’s normal to experience fatigue or even exhaustion after a particularly demanding work day or long haul, when drivers routinely find themselves beginning their day with a sense of being physically and mentally “spent,” burnout has set in.

Stage 2: Emotional motivational exhaustion

Drivers who habitually find themselves emotionally distanced from their job and becoming increasingly cynical about it are most likely suffering from burnout. Often accompanying this emotional disengagement is a heightening of frustration with or blaming of management.

At this stage of burnout, the fact that a driver is exhibiting frustration is a positive sign. Frustration indicates that the driver still has enough “fight” not to have given up yet and can, with the right intervention, be retained. If fleet managers can recognize and constructively respond to the signs of burnout at this stage (and be aware of their possible contribution to it), there is still a good chance that the situation can be turned around.

Stage 3: Self-efficacy motivational exhaustion

The third and most serious stage of burnout is characterized by a driver feeling so powerless to change the situation that his or her sense of self-efficacy collapses. This is evidenced in a driver’s perception that he or she no longer has “what it takes,” that there is “no end in sight,” and that they and their work no longer matter in any personally meaningful way.

This combination of powerlessness and meaningless is perilous, and once burnout has reached this point, turning the situation around can be difficult, if not impossible, for both drivers and fleet managers.

Typically, by the time a driver or fleet manager notices the appearance of burnout, the situation is already fairly advanced, making it crucial for drivers and fleet managers to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout and the factors that contribute to it before the situation becomes irrecoverable.

Fleet managers should be particularly attuned to complaints from drivers and other indirect or passive expressions of burnout, such as procrastination or other forms of poor performance.

Whether drivers’ complaints are verbally or behaviorally expressed, a chronically complaining driver is too easily dismissed as having “a bad attitude” when it is more likely the case that the driver is experiencing the second stage of burnout. Fleet managers should learn to recognize these complaints for what they almost always are: indirect but often intense requests for support.

Rather than complaints being dismissed as nothing more than negativity, if dispatchers or managers can empathically listen to the driver’s experience in a manner that reflects understanding, and offer support rather than leveling judgment, all parties will be better served.

Burnout doesn’t occur overnight. Without exception, there are many signs and symptoms that precede complete motivational collapse.

Data can help fleet managers understand specific frustrations of their workers, so they can prevent resignations or driver burnout. Omnitracs Driving Center, part of the Omnitracs Analytics platform, is a useful tool for this that pulls together different data elements to provide a unified view of driver performance along with the ability to spot trends, analyze issues, and document improvement efforts.

Additionally, fleet managers are well served to keep in mind the following to prevent driver burnout:

  • Provide resources and training to fortify drivers against the non-negotiable demands of the job, as well as education on burnout (how to recognize and prevent it). Managers should actively look for opportunities to decrease drivers’ stress levels. If demands are placed on drivers for which they have not been adequately prepared (or which are simply unreasonable), it is only a matter of time before burnout will occur.
  • Empower drivers though cutting-edge technology. Using fleet management technology can help reduce the amount of paperwork and other administrative tasks drivers need to perform in addition to driving.
  • Remember that as humans, we derive our sense of meaning and purpose largely from personal relationships. Drivers tend to spend an unusual amount of time alone, often necessitating unusual levels of social support. Social support is a chief factor in preventing or addressing burnout. As the saying goes, “People don’t quit a job — they quit a boss or a team.” Fleet managers and dispatchers should work on forging strong relationships with drivers.

To prevent driver burnout and turnover, fleets need to keep their ears to the ground for signs and symptoms and make sure drivers are well trained, technologically empowered, and well prepared for the physical, mental, and emotional demands of the job.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.