Trucker Appreciation 101

It’s not easy to make truck drivers feel appreciated these days. They’re often out of sight and out of mind, and many are happy to keep it that way.

“In other jobs, when a guy does good work, you can look him in the eye and tell him right then and there. The reward is immediate and it means a lot,” says Ken Shostak, director of risk management at Reimer Express Lines in Winnipeg. “With a truck driver, he’s on the road, so maybe you put off that praise until it’s more convenient for you. Then you run into the guy a few weeks later, at which point you’re thinking out loud, ‘Uh, gee, Joe, what was it I wanted to talk you about.?’

“Now the guy probably figures he’s going to get yelled at as soon as your memory comes around.” Showing drivers you care is an ever-evolving process even for enlightened managers like Shostak. And it’s one that will be on the minds of a lot of driver managers leading up to National Trucker Appreciation Week (May 31-June 6), an event being promoted by the Canadian Trucking Alliance and its provincial affiliates as a way to say thanks to the men and women who move the freight in this country. There’s no shortage of ideas (the Ontario Trucking Association posted 52 at its Web site,

But beyond fresh crullers in the driver lounge, making drivers feel like the company is watching out for their best interests-but not looking over their shoulder-should be the cornerstone of an effective recruitment and retention strategy. While you can’t fully insulate yourself from turnover, you can reduce the negative impact it has on productivity, morale, and ultimately, the bottom line by investing some effort for the long haul.

It starts by cultivating a sense of common purpose and trust among your employees. “You have to help drivers understand their importance to the company,” says Fred Arnold, president of Arnold Bros. Transport in Winnipeg. “They’re sometimes treated as commodities in this business. They need to know that I and everyone else back in the office rely on them to do their best, day in and day out.”

Tap into that and the rewards can be great. Miss the mark and you might never live it down. Take this story from Tucker Ferguson. The Edmonton-based owner-operator shakes his head as he recalls how a fleet he worked for tried to be more “family friendly.”

“They had one of those ‘bring your kid to work’ days,” Ferguson says. “The company had a no-rider policy. That was eight years ago. I’ll never forget it.”

You have to be creative and you have to be considerate if you want to make a truck driver feel appreciated, advises Kathy Harders, a trucker’s wife from Plover, Wisc., who formed a support group called LOADS (Loved Ones And Driver Support) for drivers and their families. “Companies are raffling stuff off at cookouts, but how many drivers are in town for the occasion?”

What can you do?

o Few perks are cheaper, easier, or more effective than recognition. Make appreciation a 52-week affair. Pour on the personal and team recognition. Present a Hero of the Week award to the employee who goes beyond the call of duty. Let dispatchers nominate drivers, (and vice versa), with the winner chosen by the reigning Hero. Keep it low-key: the award can be a a $50 gift certificate along with a quirky trophy that rotates among the staff. Create incentives for teams of workers-drivers and dispatchers, for example. And be sure to applaud accomplishments in staff meetings.

o Support the family. Drivers spend long hours worrying about things at home, Harders says. Some reassurance will make it easier for your driver to concentrate on the job at hand.

“Schneider National does a good job ,” she says. “They have a chat area on their Web site for drivers and families, they have a hotline families can call if the kid is sick, there’s a 1-800 number families can use to relay an emergency message to the driver via satellite. Even laundry facilities so drivers don’t have to bring dirty clothes home. Nice touches.”

Being a trucker’s spouse or kid is not an easy job. If they feel the company cares about them, they’ll be more understanding of the company and the demands it places on the driver. Little things count. “Put together a list of phone numbers for drivers’ spouses so they have someone to call if they need something,” Harders says. “Maybe they need a babysitter, or someone to mow the lawn. Maybe they just need to talk.”

But when comes to personal matters, keep the company at arm’s length, she says. You may think it’s a great idea to offer advice through the company employee assistance program; the driver may be leery that a visit would wave a red flag that something’s seriously wrong and might be used against him.

o The best ideas not only acknowledge that every driver has a life away from the road, but foster it. Teach your drivers how to read key financial statements to help them understand the business better. Offering instruction on how to deal with landlords, doctors, and government officials-even English and high-school-equivalency classes might seem to be above and beyond the call of duty and more than some companies can afford.

But the payoff in loyalty and retention just might make the investment worthwhile. ____

You can reach LOADS on the Web at, or by calling 715/345-9952.

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