Why Is Driver Turnover So High?

Posted by Mark G. Gardner on May 31, 2019 in the category Retention

The High Cost of Driver Turnover

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Last month, I read an interesting article in the NATMI monthly newsletter. It was written back in September 2018 by Stephen V. Burks and Kristen Monaco. The article is a scholarly review and analysis of the driver problem in America upon which we so often pontificate.

I was impressed with the article and their findings, but felt the authors were overly myopic and failed to mention several additional levers that drive high turnover in the truckload sector. Specifically, I took umbrage with their singular focus on wages as the sole source of discontent. I decided to take the time to write to Professor Burks and suggest that there are other quality-of-life issues affecting driver satisfaction.

I wrote in part:

I just read your article, posted on the monthly NATMI newsletter, discussing the purported “driver shortage.”  We’ve written extensively on this subject for 31 years and, in general, we’re in agreement with your findings. The law of supply and demand is alive and well, despite the protestations of misguided trucking managers/owners. Our only point of disagreement, is with your reliance on wages as the sole lever driving the rampant turnover in the truckload market.  There are other factors worth discussing. 

The OTR job is inherently less attractive than competing blue collar alternatives such as manufacturing or construction. The hours are much longer (70 per week) and often include weekends, the day-to-day challenges are more unpredictable and frustrating, the pay is variable and often beyond the driver’s control.  Finally, drivers are away from home and family for weeks at a time, depriving them of one of the most basic human needs: affiliation and love.  It takes a special person to drive over-the-road.

Steve came back within a few minutes by saying:

“I completely agree with you about the multiple reasons for high turnover in long distance truckload. Kristen and I and a third co-author are working on a second paper focused entirely on OTR drivers, which will more explicitly bring in the factors you mention.

Among other things, we will argue in the upcoming paper that the nature of competition in the truckload industry means there is not, and will not be (short of developments that are still science fiction today), a global solution to “the driver problem,” which is exactly why firms that provide services aimed at addressing this problem will never lack business.”

I’d like to place special emphasis on his final comment. It represents a refreshing breath of hope. Trucking companies that address the quality of life issues facing their drivers and simultaneously pay them a fair wage for the work performed will never lack in business. The only thing holding you back from amazing growth and greater profitability is a reluctance to embrace the new realities of trucking in 2019.

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