The secrets to keeping your best employees

The saying goes, “a good defense is the best offence,” and the same rings true in human resources.

A good retention strategy is the best recruitment strategy, at least, according to the experts in trucking, where keeping drivers is just as, if not more, important than hiring new ones.

The trucking industry in North America today is desperate for new blood. Statistics show that by 2020 the Canadian trucking industry will be short between 25,000-33,000 drivers. And in the U.S. projections are even more unsettling.

And finally, it seems like many companies in the industry are taking the shortage seriously and trying any way they can to keep their existing employees happy.

“Retention right now is absolutely essential and having a strong focus on retention is very important,” Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada says.

She cites fair pay as one of the most important best practices a fleet can do to ensure drivers stick around.

“Compensation is a big one when it comes to retention,” she says. “You want to make sure you are competitive in the marketplace. And it goes beyond pay. You want to look at the other perks you can give employees, like health benefits, pension contributions, RRSP-matching programs; we’re also seeing an increase in health and wellness programs.”

But more important than pay, says Splinter, is actually finding out from your existing employees what they want.

“You want to look at what your employees will value most, as well as having open communications with them,” she explains. “Ask what they want. Is it more vacation time? More salary? Flexible work arrangements? Health benefits? Make sure you’re in tune with what their needs are, so you can respond appropriately.”

Bison Transport takes this approach seriously, according to its manager of safety, Stephanie Fensom. To date, close to 20% of Bison’s employees have been with the company for 10 or more years.

“Retention is crucial, and for us, it starts at the fundamental of, do we know our drivers?” she says. “We find that our drivers really want a healthy work-life balance and so, in response, we have a variety of work options available to them. I look at our fleet 15 years ago and we were selling to them being gone seven to 10 days at a time. And now we’re down to five to seven days. We have to continue to look at how our network works and what our drivers need to find that balance for them. But at the same time, give them consistent pay and consistent miles. Because home time is only good if they can put food on the table. We understand the importance of knowing what our employees are looking for. Because if you know what they are looking for, be it financial or home time, you can look at what freight options you have to make it work.”

Fensom also explained Bison has the ability to transition people slowly into retirement or adjust routes according to lifestyle.

“We have the ability to adjust routes so people can retire, or be home more when their kids are younger,” she explains. “They can work seven days on and seven days off, or have a mix of 15 days across the month. Whatever works for them, we try to give them that flexibility instead of having them work elsewhere.”

XTL Transport actually has a retention committee that identifies employees that could potentially leave the company.

“About two years ago we created the retention committee,” explained the company’s director of human resources, Kamilia Baroudi. “How it works is, let’s say a dispatcher is not happy with a driver’s performance; we created the committee so that we could have a space to talk about it. We discuss with safety, maintenance, HR, operations, so that we can reach an outcome together and help the driver out instead of simply terminating him.”

Sometimes, Baroudi explained, someone will flag a driver who has been making less money over a period of time.

“Because that can indicate this driver may be thinking of leaving,” she said. “So, we discuss it with operations, and ask what happened for this change in pay? Was there less work? Was his truck broken down? We ask all of those things. We investigate. We sit down with the drivers and ask what they need. Maybe it’s training, maybe it’s mentorship – but we no longer terminate for incidents. Especially with the shortage of drivers, we try to retain everyone. If you have good employees, you should keep them. You should listen to them.”

Splinter said companies are so focused on keeping drivers today, that some are even treating a driver that leaves like a major road incident.

“Retention is such an important focus today for fleets,” she says. “We just conducted roundtables with fleets across the country, and we were talking with one fleet and what they said I found shocking. They said, ‘Today, if there is a driver leaving our company, this exit is treated like a major accident.’ So that just shows the importance that fleets on putting on retention right now.”

At Bandstra Transportation Systems, a for-hire carrier in B.C., retention efforts are vast.

“We put a focus on drivers with seniority,” president Phil Bandstra said. “So, drivers who have been with the company the longest get preferred routes. But we like to be flexible with drivers, because some guys like to go to the same place five days a week, other people like to explore the world. So we ask them.”

Bandstra also conducts yearly surveys for drivers and has annual driver meetings to ask drivers things like how they’re doing, what’s on their mind, and what sorts of changes they want to see in their job. The company also hosts many social events for its employees and provides uniforms for drivers.

At the end of the day, according to Bison’s Fensom, if you’re not retaining your drivers, you can’t expect to do much else with your business.

“When you retain your drivers, that’s the only way you can move your business and programs forward,” she says. “That way, you can continue to build on the base of drivers you have instead of continuing to start at the beginning. That’s how you’re able to build a safety culture, and a family culture, so you really need that base of keeping those drivers you have around for the longhaul.”

Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

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